Clear Winter Nights, by Trevin Wax, book review

[dropcap]I[/dropcap] count myself blessed to be among many who count Trevin Wax a friend. Small in stature but with a giant intellect, Trevin runs Kingdom People, one of the popular blogs at The Gospel Coalition, and serves as the managing editor of The Gospel Project.

clear winter nights by trevin waxHaving already published two books on theology before getting his doctorate, Trevin has turned his theological interests to fiction writing. His first novel, Clear Winter Nights, is due out in September and already has a significant amount of buzz.

One of my favorite authors, Randy Alcorn, had this to say, “Trevin Wax’s Clear Winter Nights is an engaging story about something fresh and vital—the old kind of Christian, transformed by Christ, doing battle with sin, relying on Jesus day after day. The book raises honest questions and offers honest answers based on what’s rock solid, not on our culture’s ever-shifting worldview. I enjoyed the moving relationship between a young man and an old one, with history, heritage, mentoring, and friendship. I found Clear Winter Nights to be warm, compelling, and thought provoking.”

Knowing that I read a fair amount of fiction Trevin asked me to review the first draft and a subsequent draft. He even asked me to help suggest a title. Mine, I report with dismay, was not chosen. I also suggested an alternate opening. His editors rejected it.

I am beginning to see a trend regarding my attempts to be published by a major publishing house. I need better editors.

It should be known that I had a difficult time with this review. I did not like the first draft at all and told Trevin as much. I do not read a lot of Christian fiction for the same reasons many people do not listen to a lot of Christian music. Alcorn and Randall Arthur are notable exceptions. My most consumed fiction authors are John Grisham, Dennis LeHane, Michael Connelly and Stephen Hunter. Other than Grisham these authors return to the same characters over and over, creating broad geographies of backstory and narrative. Stand alone stories have to be off the charts to keep my interest. Trevin’s concern was voiced in a Twitter exchange we had a few weeks ago:

Sub-titled, “A journey into truth, doubt, and what comes after,” the Clear Winter Nights story is a vehicle for addressing faith and doubt. Most of the book is dialogue connected by limited narrative. The dialogue is good. The theology is solid. No Christian should have concerns with reading this book themselves or giving to a friend, believer or no.

The primary characters are Chris and Gil, grandson and grandfather. Chris, who is supposed to be part of a church planting team, is experiencing a crisis of faith that threatens his relationship with his girlfriend, the church planting team and God. During a brief visit to see Gil, who is recovering from a stroke, numerous conversations instigated by both parties help Chris better think through his doubts and his faith.

What I liked about Clear Winter Nights is that it hit a good number of faith issues head on. How Christians should view people who sincerely hold different beliefs, homosexual behavior, forgiveness, reconciliation, sin in the church, and death. Each of these are handled with the grace and wisdom you would hope to find from someone who is writing to instruct rather than condemn.

I also liked the lack of complete resolution. Chris’s story is not neatly bow-tied like the last three minutes of a 30-minute sitcom. Though Chris makes obvious strides toward a recovered faith the reader is left to some wonder.

What I did not like about the book is not that no one got shot, but there is so much dialogue. There is an enormous amount of conversation. When the pinnacle of action is someone slammed a car door and drove off in a huff, my attention will wain. This, however, is a matter of preference in this reader not a fault of the writer. The subject matter is such that I prefer to read in non-fiction.

I do encourage you to check out Clear Winter Nights as the genre is needed. My hope would be that moving forward, Trevin and others like him would push the boundaries of fiction writing well into the non-Christian market. There is little need for vampires to remain atop the sales charts for months on end.

Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.

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