Monday, May 4, 2009

Shame by Greg Garrett - My Review


“…the past always seems to be sitting within easy reach of anybody that wants to pick it up.” (p. 30)

John Tilden is a character who chose to cling to his past and its mistakes, and he labored beneath the shame of his choices for twenty years, hence the title for Greg Garrett’s work – Shame. John Tilden is the main character and narrator of this story, and through his own mid-life crisis over “what could have been”, he explores his own thoughts and motives toward everyone in his life – his wife, his children, his sister, his parents – no relationship is left unexamined.

John is a farmer and a volunteer basketball coach living in rural Oklahoma. All outward appearances would indicate that even though he started his adult life on faulty premises, it would seem that everything has worked out just fine. On the inside, however, John labors beneath a load of guilt and shame that would crush anyone’s spirit no matter their circumstances. He doubts his faith, his marriage, his entire existence…and that, dear reader, makes for a dark story to read.

I think that Greg Garrett has explored something that is a real crisis for most people when they realize that they have in all likelihood completed at least half of their life here on earth. No one is free from regret or from wondering what their life might have been like had they made different choices. However, for those of us who have a personal relationship with Christ and walk with Him through every life circumstance, I think that there is always peace and assurance that we are not alone, and there is strength to lean upon when doubt, temptation and shame come knocking. John Tilden seemed to be lacking in this very vital area of his heart, and thus his story was difficult to endure.

The author chose to allow his characters to take the Lord’s name in vain some eight or ten times throughout the story which, while believable for the characters, was not something I’d expect to find in a story of faith. And while the end of the novel wasn’t completely devoid of hope, it did not ring true to me. The main character, John Tilden, never once displayed any true faith in Christ and His power to redeem his past or his future, so I find it hard to believe that he would face his future with anything remotely resembling hope or thankfulness. Perhaps the fact that he did eventually gain some perspective on his life was the only tiny evidence of faith or redemption at all. Overall, I felt no more hope for him at the end than I did at the beginning.

This was a dark emotional book to read, and I’m glad I no longer have to endure the regrets and shame of a man who refused to grow up. The message of this book portrayed an impotent God who is powerless to save and redeem, and that is a lie that ensnares many lives today. When reviewing Christian fiction, I prefer the story to reflect the truth of God's redemptive power and not a "higher power" that sits in heaven saying "hang in there.” I find little to recommend here.


Greg Garrett has published newspaper and magazine features, short stories, personal and critical essays, reviews, encyclopedia articles, novels, a memoir, and books of nonfiction during his thirty-year writing career. Author of the critically acclaimed novels Free Bird (chosen by Publishers Weekly and the Rocky Mountain News [Denver] as one of the best first novels of 2002) and Cycling, as well as the nonfiction books The Gospel Reloaded (with Chris Seay), Holy Superheroes!, the spiritual autobiography Crossing Myself, The Gospel According to Hollywood, and the forthcoming Stories from the Edge, Dr. Garrett is a past winner of the Pirate's Alley William Faulkner Prize for Fiction, and a regional CASE gold medalist for nonfiction. He was elected to the Texas Institute of Letters in 2005 for his lifetime literary achievements. Professor of English at Baylor University, Dr. Garrett was named the Outstanding Baylor Faculty Member for 1994 by the Baylor Student Congress, and received the university administration's outstanding professor award in 1996. He received his Ph.D. in English from Oklahoma State University, and recently completed the M.Div. at the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, where he lives, writes, and serves as a lay preacher at St. David's Episcopal Church.


Scrambled Dregs said...

Great thoughts, Kim. A little different from mine. That said, I linked to you from the Dregs and copied this review to NR. Thanks, after the fact. : )

Andi said...

I haven't read the book Kim, yet I'm in the middle of a divorce to a man that I believed was my soul mate. Now I know he has cheated on me my entire marriage. I was the only one faithful for 23 years. Had I to do everything over again, I wouldn't have married him, when my dad asked me as I began walking down the aisle and I started to cry if I really wanted to do this, I would've said NO and gone screaming out of the church. I think we all have some mistakes we'd like to do over, and wonder if . . .
Just my thoughts.
Great review though!