Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Handling Sin

We first met the Southern writer Michael Malone at a conference in Grand Rapids. We thought he was both hilarious and insightful, so we picked up his novel, Handling Sin. Apparently several divinity schools have used it in classes, but it is not a standard theology textbook!! It is the VERY funny story of Raleigh Hayes, an insurance agent from Thermopylae, North Carolina who thought he had everything under control until it all began to unravel. Raleigh receives word that his father, a former minister, has checked himself out of the hospital and left for New Orleans in a Cadillac convertible with a 20 year old girl. Accompanied by his lifelong friend, Mingo Sheffield, Raleigh takes off after his father on what becomes an uproarious, multi-state adventure. Along the way, he runs up against each of the Seven Deadly Sins while learning what is truly central. Handling Sin may be the funniest book you ever read, but Malone uses the humor to communicate a very serious point. If we have no room for others and do not love them well, we are missing the whole point of life on this earth. This is a book about grace, being fully human, and embracing the Scriptural command to love.

Foolscap: Or, The Stages of Love is not the comic romp of Handling Sin. It is a story of Theo Ryan, an English professor who has not quite found his place in the world. When the novel parodies the self-importance of academic communities and publishers, we wonder how close it comes to the author's own lived experience--Malone, who certainly knows the world of publishing, is married to a professor of English at a southern university. If you are reading Foolscap, be sure and stay with it. You might not know where it is going, but toward the end Malone brings it together with a fabulous image that is inspiring, refreshing, and well worth the trip.

As Christmas approaches, you might also try Malone's The Last Noel. This is a beautiful, bittersweet story that traces the relationship between two friends over the course of a lifetime. We see Kaye and Noni in a series of Christmas encounters, each separated by several years. Best buddies as children, they grow to love each other dearly. Sadly, they never quite admit it--not to each other, anyway, or not in time, or maybe not until the end. Pack some tissue for this one, but be ready, too, to enjoy the present with the people you love. As you read, look for Malone's subtle allusions to the twelve days of Christmas in his twelve chapters.


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