I think it took exactly three weeks for one of the kids to ask. “Mom, why do the Lutherans sing such morbid, dreary songs?”
It sounds so disrespectful now, but it wasn’t. The question came sincere and seeking to understand… with just a hint of frustration under it.
Look, you can’t blame the kid. We’d come from a rich a capella tradition with both mournful and lively tunes. Sure, we’d occasionally sung “Night with Ebon Pinion,” but not often. We were used to singing things like, “Our God Is Alive” and “Revive Us Again.” Those don’t even include the obvious… “Sing and Be Happy!” After that, singing… again… something that sounded like a dirge and repeated in every way possible what vile worms we are did get, and still does, a little old.
I’m pretty sure that most of what I said was utter nonsense.
I pointed out that despite the terrible tunes and seemingly one-track theme, the songs were rich in theology, and if they’d grown up with them, they’d probably have strong affection for them.
My guess is that one kid out of eight agreed—the one who eventually married that Lutheran pastor’s son. 😉
Later conversations turned the question to books. Why do we love tragic books and movies so much? Many of them are full of sin, sorrow, and secrets. What about them would appeal to Christians?
I’ve been on the hunt for the answer to that for a long time. Yes, I’ve had a pretty good idea of it, but once I find an answer to things… I try to prove me wrong. It’s just one of my peculiarities.
Well, after reading a book last night, I think I’ve proven my posit. Can one do that? You can posit a question, so can you prove that posit? I’m going to say yes. If not, don’t tell me. I like my delusions. Still, now that I sit down to review the book, my brain can’t stop churning.
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Why Do Christians Love Books about Sin and Sorrow?
Midnight on the River Grey should read like one of Shakespeare’s tragedies. Sin, sorrow, secrets combine into a plot that I absolutely couldn’t put down. To avoid TMI, I’ll just say that I didn’t put it down… even when perhaps I should have.
This was my second book by Abigail Wilson and it will not be my last. Not by a long shot. If the character of Rebecca hadn’t first caught my attention, her “voice” would have. She comes alive on the page of a novel written in first-person, and I didn’t even care.
Yes, I noticed it. Usually, that’s an issue. It wasn’t this time. In fact, I believe the book is better for it.
You won’t see me admit that often.
But if that hadn’t caught me and gripped me, the opening lines of chapter three definitely did.
Years of history and neglect had left a steady hush throughout Greybourne Hall. Almost as if the soul of the house had left it long ago and what remained was a hollow shell. From the cobweb-decorated parlor to the abandoned chapel, a transient gloom roamed the halls, leaving my body yearning for warmth.”
Wilson can write… and write well. We become immersed in Regency England and Greybourne Hall from the first page of Midnight on the River Grey. She does it with judicious use of almost lyrical description, careful attention to characterization, and a deliciously layered plot that tastes better with every bite.
Yes, I went there with a food metaphor. I’ve been unable to eat for forty-hours and food is calling my name.
The biggest objection I have to this book is that I didn’t see a faith element shown in a book published by a Christian publisher and by a Christian author. The Book of Common Prayer is mentioned–as a place for something hidden. And forgiveness is offered freely after grave sin. But I don’t read Christian fiction only because it doesn’t have sex or foul language. I read it for my faith to be encouraged. I had to dig to find it here… and it was all under deep layers.
Still, I loved Midnight on the River Grey
Not only did Abigail Wilson write a compelling story with every element perfectly placed, but she did it so subtly and delicately that I didn’t realize how phenomenal the book was until I started dissecting it for this review. Every choice she made in point of view, characterization, plot, twists, writing style—all of it is affected by the others.
It’s my contention that she did every bit of it with careful deliberation. And that it’s brilliant. Oh, so brilliant.
And all in a plot full of sin, secrets, sorrow, and oh, so much ugliness.
Why do we like this? Why would we want to read about what we so wish to avoid in life? Better still, why do we “enjoy” these things as “entertainment”—these things Jesus died for?
I have two answers for that. It took a while to figure out why I wasn’t satisfied with my original one. You see, it was incomplete.
I first thought, “Because it helps us see our own sin for the ugliness it is. It helps us understand all we’ve been saved from because we’re able to disassociate ourselves from it a bit.”
I still believe those things, but even more, I think what I discovered tonight is true. Why do Christians love books about sin and sorrow? I think the answer is less satisfying than I first assumed. The answer, I think is…
We don’t like any of that. What we do like is that once all that ugliness has played out on the page, something beautiful happens—a weak, pathetic imitation of what happens in real life.
See, the author takes all that ugliness and gives it meaning. Well, in a good book anyway. We see why the horrors had to happen and justice on the other side of it. Sometimes we see mercy and forgiveness.
In short, we see a shadow of the beautiful thing The Author of life does with His “characters” in their “stories.”
And Abigail Wilson’s Midnight on the River Grey is one of the best examples I’ve seen of that in a long time. When I requested a free review copy of the book, I didn’t know what to expect. Lately, I’ve been disappointed in quite a few books I’d really been looking forward to. I picked it up with a bit of trepidation, but it just plopped on my best of 2019 list without a second thought—and even with a few things that I don’t think are quite accurate. She made me not care.
I’ve read another of her books--forgot about it at first. This was much better!