Monday, July 20, 2009

Riven, by Jerry Jenkins

Riven, by Jerry Jenkins, is the most compelling drama I’ve read in a long time.

In two parallel story lines, Jenkins introduces us into the lives of career criminal Brady Darby and the worn-down pastor, Thomas Carey. Their lives converge when Brady and Thomas both are hardened by life’s knocks and bruises, but the bulk of the book presents those knocks and bruises, giving the reader a clear understanding of what makes each man tick.

With the expertise of a seasoned psychologist, Jenkins illustrates the development of a criminal without once allowing the reader an emotion stronger than disappointment. Brady Darby’s life is tough; his choices make it tougher. But everything Darby experiences, from adolescent anger to adult rage, is understandable if not condonable. Even Brady’s most heinous crime, while expected, is perceivable. But instead of revulsion, I felt pity.

Jenkins lets the reader into the private life of a pastor, too, with things I had certainly never considered: church politics, the demand for entertaining sermons, the low income–not to mention the heartache of a family member who falls away from the faith. Add to the mix a wife with a serious disease, and it is easy to see how a preacher like Thomas Carey could feel defeated. When no other church is available for him to pastor, he becomes a chaplain for a prison. Not just any prison–not a penitentiary, where criminals become penitant and eventually return to society. An end-of-the-road supermax correctional facility where those not doomed to execution will never again see the sun. An institution of society’s worst offenders who have no use for God, much less a pastor.

When Thomas and Brady finally meet, things happen that are so miraculous, so improbable, the reader is required to suspend belief and bear with the author. My ambiguity about the conclusion lasted all the way through the tear-jerking climax. I’m still torn between wanting a less incredible finale and an inability to conceive of a more fitting conclusion.

Jenkins’s strength as a writer is without a doubt his characterization. Every character, even the most minor, is fully rounded and believable without once subjecting the reader to long drawn-out descriptions. Bad boy Brady Darby is so sympathetic as to not be a villain at all, nor was he intended to be. In truth, the villain is Brady’s mother, a totally unsympathetic woman whose presence permeates the entire book although her appearances are few. Her opposite extreme is Thomas Carey’s wife, Grace, a woman so perfect as to seem unlikely. Yet, Jenkins dips his brush into the color of stubbornness, and by applying that one simple flaw, adds hues of believability to Grace Carey.

When readers or writers discuss bringing characters to life, this is what they’re talking about.

Riven gets five stars from me! ✯✯✯✯✯
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