What I learned: Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers

This is one of those books that kept coming up. Seemingly every person, and by person I mean woman, I know read and adores this book. I can’t remember how many ladies encouraged me to read this novel to better understand women, love, and even my relationship with God. Strong motivations. My wife finally tackled it and almost begged me to read it, but still I found other pages to turn. Since then, I began working at a Crisis Pregnancy Center and I regularly have the opportunity to meet women who have been battered, abused, and raped. (I write a blog on our website if you’re interested in checking it out.) A few of the ladies on staff have those words in their story and they’ve been courageously educating me on all I didn’t know. One of those conversations ended with the recommendation to read Redeeming Love and I finally relented. (I had just finished Chasing Fireflies so it timed up perfectly. Read What I learned.)

I’ve read two other novels from Rivers – The Atonement Child and The Shofar Blew – and I’ve enjoyed them both. The Atonement Child would be on my must read list, if I had one. She’s all about the third-person omniscient narrator which I find fun to read but intimidating to write. I struggle simply placing the elements of a story in the correct order much less providing motivations and reflections from every character. An author really has to understand his characters to write in that point of view.

This is another novel that inspires me as an author because it tactfully but directly deals with important issues. There are quite a few women who connect with this one because Rivers uses her characters to reveal the thought life of a woman who has been sexually abused. Those who have been there seem to appreciate her candor, sensitivity, and accuracy. So much so they recommend guys like me to read it and better understand. I say, “Well Done Mrs. Rivers!”

But what did I learn? I learned we can let fictitious characters reveal the hearts and minds of real people, and in doing so give the silenced a voice. Oh to be that talented.  A literary issue does come up in this story though – the inclusion of sexually descriptive scenes. There’s nothing graphic in the novel at all, but she describes moments and settings in such a way that you know what’s happening. More specifically, she lets the reader into Angel’s mind as she considers Michael and vice-versa. It made me squirm just a bit. At the same time I came across a blog post written by Charles Martin about his latest book, Thunder and Rain. It’s titled “Sexual Innuendos,” Reader Mail, and the Power of Words. Apparently there are some descriptive scenes in his book that took some readers aback. The focus of this particular debate seems to be on the reader and their convictions, but I’m considering it from a different perspective. If an author is truly getting inside his character’s heart and mind, and they are investing the creative, imaginative effort to create a multi-sensory scene, would it not require the author to direct his thought life to unhealthy places? As a married man, I think it unwise to imagine one of my characters in a sexual encounter. It would require me to create something that is reserved only for my bride and that’s not a picture I’m willing to paint. At the same time, I thought Martin’s motivation was sound and we’ve, my wife and I, sincerely appreciated the way he has written about similar issues in other books, particularly the magazine scene from When Crickets Cry.

What do you think? Is there a place where there’s a little too much of your character’s experiences invading your mind? Can an affair be vicarious? How would you feel if your beloved wrote a scene about his characters that was “descriptive?” I’m curious to learn your thoughts.

Keep Discovering Writing.

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3 comments

  1. I was also somewhat reluctant to read Redeeming Love, partly because I did know what it was about. I found myself downright angry while reading it. Angry at all the people who recommended that I read it, angry at the author for writing it, and angry at the idea that the story is not far from reality! After finishing the story, I was glad that I read it and I saw how it helped me to pray more seriously and have compassion for women in situations like Angel’s.
    I was hesitant to recommend the book to others because of the nearly unveiled way in which she wrote. I was thankful to read the Publisher’s note indicating to the reader that this book would be PG-13 if it were rated. Also, the note from the author gave better insight into why she wrote in that fashion.
    On the other hand, I am reading through the Anne Series (Anne of Green Gables, etc.) by L.M. Montgomery and have found myself a little frustrated at the lack of information. Here I am reading book 5 and I’m thinking, “Wait a minute! Where are the bride’s feelings about her upcoming first night with her husband? She just spent an entire page describing the beauty of the trees and flowers and yet she has no opinion on her handsome husband after waiting years to be married!” But then it occured to me that that was Montgomery’s style of writing. She left private things private- even in the letters that go back and forth between lovers she inserts “(several pages ommitted)” rather than use these intimate words and ideas for the reader’s entertainment. And I found myself thankful that the author showed respect for the privacy of her characters and for the minds of her readers.
    I prefer a closed door in a story when there would be one in reality. Let’s face it, we aren’t detailing the thoughts our characters are having when they are sitting on the toilet! However, I feel there may be exceptions to what should be exposed in a story. In the case of Redeeming Love, it is almost crucial for the reader to see behind closed doors in order to sympathize with an otherwise despised and criticized character. But even in this case, Rivers mostly sets the scene and let’s the details remain obscure- thank God! Even in the Bible there are stories that describe more than you wish they did, and yet in others you feel yourself longing for more information. In wiriting, I think the key must be having the wisdom to know what detail is necessary and what detail is just plain too much.

    1. Great thoughts, Darlene! Thanks for offering them. For the record, unless Lucy shows an interest I’m not reading any more girly books so the Anne series will remain in my local library 🙂 I like you idea of what should be behind closed doors staying there, but I don’t condemn the efforts Rivers and Martin are making to explore the emotions of their characters.

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