O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? – Romans 7:24
One part personal confession, one part satire of Christian culture, and one part (okay, maybe three parts) fun house ride through the amusement park of Matt Mikalato’s decidedly curvilinear imagination, Night of the Living Dead Christian is a fun read, and as Bill Cosby used to say, if you’re not careful, you might learn something before you’re done.
This book isn’t so much a sequel as a companion to Mr. Mikalato’s acclaimed first novel, Imaginary Jesus. This time, rather than taking us on a tour of the false images of Jesus we create for ourselves, he turns his attention to what it means to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus, and all the ways we manage to make a mess of that. It’s an unapologetic un-apologetic—slicing and dicing theology is one big way we confuse and distract ourselves, and the message here is that we need to spend less time over-intellectualizing the fine points of doctrine and more time listening to what Jesus actually said, and following his example. It’s also a call to a mature Christianity that doesn’t stall out at conversion but presses onward in a lifelong journey toward what Paul calls being “conformed to the image” of Jesus.
Matt narrates the story and serves as a secondary protagonist, but the focus this time is on his neighbor, Luther, whose slavery to human passion has derailed his faith and transformed him into a werewolf. After an early misunderstanding in which Matt tries and fails utterly to destroy this frightening monster that’s disturbed his suburban tranquility, the two of them dash hither and yon across Vancouver, Washington, seeking a remedy for Luther’s malady, and discovering a few other monsters in the process. That’s pretty much all you need to know about the story itself. Trying to summarize Matt’s and Luther’s multitudinous misadventures would be an exercise in futility. Read the book.
Matt uses the monsters as a metaphor for the ways we miss the mark and become conformed to something other than the image of Christ. We’re marred and twisted into a travesty of what we were meant to be. Luther’s soliloquies at key points in the story provide a touching insight into his wounded soul and a reminder of the very real stakes looming behind all the silliness. One of the most poignant scenes in this mostly funny story is the moment when Matt realizes he’s become a monster himself, and he hadn’t a clue it was happening.
There’s been some debate recently on Becky Miller’s and Mike Duran’s blogs about “preachy fiction,” and the difficulty of finding a balance between message and story. Night of the Living Dead Christian carries a clear and unambiguous Christian message, and it’s also a witty, well-crafted, entertaining story that can be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of their religious affiliation or lack thereof. Part of its success lies, I think, in the fact that Matt makes it crystal clear from the beginning what he’s up to here. There may be an agenda, but it’s not hidden, and the satirical index finger is supported by three others pointing firmly back at the author. It’s not so much about my problems, or Matt’s problems, or even Luther’s problems, as it is about our problems, collectively, as human beings. And Matt gives us one rollicking good time along the way. This book demonstrated to me that it’s not a contradiction in terms to tell a great story that talks frankly about the nuts and bolts of being a Christian.
Gripes? Not many. The writing early on felt a bit rough, like the author was still warming up, but that may have been part of him writing in character as…er…himself. Perhaps my reaction was my own inner monster emerging.
“The adverbbbssss, my preciousssss…they burrrrrns usssss!”
Anyhow, it smoothed out as the story moved along, and who am I to argue with the editorial staff at Tyndale?
Aside from the striking cover design, the book offers an afterword from the author with acknowledgements that not all the events and characters in the story are complete fiction, a handy guide to monsters in your neighborhood, and a set of discussion questions useful for book clubs, families, Bible study groups, etc.
So, that’s my review. I feel so much less like an impostor now. For more genuine reaction and really real reviews, check out the other fine establishments on this month’s Tour:
Thomas Clayton Booher
Thomas Fletcher Booher
Morgan L. Busse
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Rachel Starr Thomson
Author’s website: http://www.mikalatos.com/
>>This review is based upon a copy of the book provided to me free of charge by the publisher, a courtesy I appreciate, but which does not guarantee my recommendation. I strive to evaluate every book I review purely on its intrinsic merits.<<