Many people recently have declared that The Shack is the best new novel around to help people engage with questions of God. In my review I concluded that it may be useful for some people who are already searching for a spirituality, but in general it has too many flaws and is not well written enough.
Just after reading The Shack, I came across a novel called Deep Stuff, by Mike Riddell. It is a relatively old book, as contemporary Gen X fiction goes, (first published in 1999), but as I had heard of Mike Riddell’s writing before, I decided to give it a go. It is incredibly well written.
The story follows five housemates, whose lives are shaken up a little with the introduction of the most recent arrival, John, a New Zealander. Quickly, he gets them thinking about life, the universe and everything. The action is centred around a weekly meal that the housemates decide to have. Each week, one of them cooks, and the same person also picks a topic of conversation for discussion: money, aging, fame, sex, relationships, families, death. Each gets to air their opinions and ponder other people. As they have their conversations and learn more about each other, their pre-suppositions are challenged, their opinions are swayed, and their closeness increases. All this is carried along through a number of sub-plots for each character, relationships which come and go and other worries.
The genius of this book is that it doesn’t give the desired answer on a plate. The characters don’t all come to the same (Christian) viewpoint in the end, but Riddell engages with each issue seriously from all directions, forcing the reader analyse their own thoughts on these issues, to assess their place in the world and to think outside of themselves.
Is it better than the shack? Well, it’s certainly different. The quality of the writing is much higher, and the approach taken to Christian things is more subtle. The 5 housemates al have well rounded characters, each with an engaging back-stories which enable us to understand why they are as they are. The author also seems to have less of an agenda to push than Young did with The Shack, yet at the same time he gently points to something greater than ourselves. Another nice touch (in the edition I read) are the quotes doen the margins from famous writers,philosphers, thinkers and others. For example, during the discussion about family, Matt Groenig (creator of the The Simpsons) is quoted as saying “Families are about love overcoming emotional torture!” A hardened athiest could read this and enjoy it as well as a committed Christian.
I picked up my copy for 50 pence from the Christian Resourses Project in Plymouth. They ave many left which they bought from the publishers at the end of a print run. It’s also available on Amazon.