W. Paul Young has written another book. He now offers us the novel Cross Roads, from Faith Words Publishing. Young, as I’m sure you know, was the author of the controversial and wildly successful The Shack. Of course, a lot of its success was because it was controversial. But it was also a decent story.
Young is a good story teller. He’s just not a very good writer. The writing in The Shack was pretty bad in spots and in Cross Roads his writing still grates on the nerves at times. It could really use the work of a good editor, or three. The protagonist of the story is Tony Spencer. Tony is “not a nice man”. No spoiler alert needed there, Young tells us this right away.
That’s part of the problem. He tells us. We are not shown Tony being selfish, heartless, conniving and cruel. We’re told that’s what he’s like. Over and over again. The first 20 pages are almost all exposition with some back story. Not much action until the end of the first chapter. At the start, Young also seems to really struggle with repetition. In one paragraph, we’re told, “He was alone, but most of the time preferred it that way. He had a house in the West Hills, a beach retreat at Depoe Bay, his condo by the Williamette River, strong investments, and the freedom to do almost anything he wanted. He was alone, but most of the time preferred it that way.”
I think we can safely assume that Tony likes being alone. By the way, that’s the third mention of the house, beach retreat, and condo in the first thirteen pages. You might think they’re significant. They’re not.
Things improve after this. Once Young gets rolling, he does tell a good story. The characters are interesting, if not always believable, and the novel is entertaining. Parts of it are like The Pilgrim’s Progress while others involve interaction between the spiritual and physical world. Both parts are interesting and enjoyable.
Of course, there is also the question of what’s going to be controversial this time? Not nearly as much as with The Shack. Having dealt with Father God as a matronly black woman and the Holy Spirit as a slight Asian woman, there’s much less shock and awe this time around. In fact, a couple lines seem almost to be thrown in as an attempt to stir the pot. They’re not needed and add nothing to the story.
There are a couple points of possible contention however. Young has one character suggest that when Paul advised women to be silent in church, (1 Cor. 14:34), he was being sarcastic and didn’t really mean it. It’s an interesting interpretation and may well be true. This could be a big sticking point for some people however.
My biggest area of concern is early in the book when a spiritual visitor to Tony tells him that he died on the same day as John Kennedy and Aldous Huxley, (can you guess who it was?), and it was a real surprise to Huxley when they showed up at the pearly gates together. Young never goes on to explain this further and it troubles me. Huxley was a humanist and a self proclaimed agnostic. I’m not prepared to judge Kennedy’s spiritual circumstances but with his multiple adulteries, he did not live a Christian life. Does Young think that we all go to heaven regardless of what we believe? Does he contend that we all get a chance to change our minds after we’re dead? I don’t know. Maybe this was just a throwaway line that Young thought was humorous. Who knows?
To be sure, the big reply to any controversy will be “It’s just fiction”. However, all of writing depicts and displays the worldview of the author. As Christian writers, we need to be careful that this lines up with good theology.
Overall, I enjoyed Cross Roads, though not as much as I enjoyed The Shack, (despite the improvement in the level of writing). I’d give it 2 ½ stars out of 5. Good but far from great.