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Did anyone else *not* like ‘The Shack’?

November 6, 2008

I read William P. Young’s The Shack yesterday at the request of my mom, who is reading it for her book club. I only continued reading because she wanted to discuss it. 

shackThe novel is about Mack, a father struggling under ‘The Great Sadness’ after his young daughter Missy is abducted and murdered on a camping trip. At the beginning of the book, it has been three years (if I’m remembering correctly – I gave the book back to my mom) since the murder, and Mack has just received a note in his mailbox. The note, signed ‘Papa’ (Mack’s wife’s personal name for God), tells Mack that he is missed and invites him back to the shack, the place where Mack found the bloodied dress of his daughter. 

Mack then remembers back to the camping trip, the abduction, and the discovery of the shack, and readers get additional details on the serial killer and Missy’s abduction.

We are then back with Mack, who is considering the note. At this point I almost stopped reading because Mack’s immediate response to the note is that it’s from God (What?!). Mack knows that God no longer speaks directly to humans (Bible-style) and that God hasn’t been known to communicate via note before but, after all, it is signed ‘Papa,’ which only someone intimately knowledgeable about his family would understand. Mack considers that the note could be: a) from God, b) a “cruel joke”, or c) the killer trying to get in touch with him. Any realistic, stable person would never even dream up the idea, let alone believe, that God actually wrote him or her a note and placed it in the mailbox. A person in Mack’s situation would think that the killer is trying to get in touch with, lure, or emotionally torture him – not even, as Mack says, play a “cruel joke”. I would never consider such a note a “cruel joke” but would recognize it as harassment and would share it with the police. But Mack, without any real questioning, decides the note could be from God and returns to the shack to find out. 

There are plenty of reasons for Mack to return to the shack (trying to find the killer, or his daughter’s body, or closure, to name a few) that don’t have to involve a note from God and Mack’s ridiculous reaction to it. 

At the shack, Mack does encounter God, in the form of the trinity – ‘Papa’ as a motherly black woman who loves to cook, a modern and hip Jesus, and a young, Asian, fairy-like Holy Spirit. Throughout the next day or so, Mack has many conversations with God. Through Mack’s delayed questioning (why Mack doesn’t immediately demand answers for why his daughter suffered so terribly is another example of his unrealistic reactions) and God’s short, fluffy answers, Mack suddenly understands the great mysteries, such as the trinity, theodicy, free will/predestination, etc., that humans have wrestled with for thousands of years. 

If you were actually in the presence of God, actually having a conversation with God, perhaps you would understand as easily as Mack does. But this isn’t convincingly conveyed, at all. 

Someone who has been through such a terrible tragedy such as having a child murdered or kidnapped might find the book comforting. Having majored in religion, I come at the book slightly differently than a lot of people, but I found it to be Christian literary fluff that tries to explain some very important theological problems in unsatisfying, and even problematic, ways. 

Furthermore, The Shack does not, as its website states, have “a literary quality to it that distinguishes it as a special gift.” Far from it. Again, I don’t have the book in front of me to provide concrete examples, but unsophisticated sentence structure and spotty character dialect come to mind. If you’re looking for a truly meaningful religious/spiritual novel with real literary quality, I recommend Gilead and The Brothers Karamazov. 

Have you read The Shack, or do you know someone who has? What did you think? Feel free to disagree.

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