We last left off with Mack having a conversation with his 2 daughters, Missy and Kate. Mack discussed the Multnomah Princess story, comparing the sacrifice of the Princess to the sacrifice of Jesus. He has just reassured his daughters that the god figure in these stories is totally benevolent, despite the fact that he asks people to die. Why he couldn’t just save the people, especially in the princess story, is never explained.
We begin this chapter with 2 long paragraphs about just how large the woods in the area is. I’d consider it all repetitive and boring, except that it is important to the story because it emphasizes just how much woods there are to get lost in.
We are told that the next 3 days are filled with fun and activities. Hikes, go kart races, fishing, etc. The Phillipses meet two other families while camping and strike up a friendship. We get a few paragraphs of background information on these two families, which could have been cut from the novel. In fact, it is debatable if these people even need to be in the novel, since their sole purpose is to be around to answer questions after Missy disappears.
We get yet another montage of the group doing fun activities together, this time with the other 2 families joining in. It reads like filler, and isn’t terribly interesting or relevant. Much of this could have been cut and the novel wouldn’t suffer.
After the kids go to bed, the adults sit around the campfire and talk. This being a Christian novel, they of course eventually wind up talking about God. The topic comes up when Mack is talking about his wife, Nan. We get a long paragraph about Nan and how great she is. Mack mentions that Nan speaks at conferences, and when asked what she speaks about, Mack replies,
“She helps people think through their relationship with God in the face of their own death.”
What does that even mean? I think I know what this is referring to because I speak fluent Christianese. Would a non Christian who picked up this novel know what this means? I’d be interested in knowing the answer to that.
One of the people, Jesse, asks Mack to elucidate.
“I guess she thinks about God differently than most folks,” [said Mackenzie] “She even calls him Papa because of the closeness of their relationship, if that makes sense.”
This is not an explanation. This tells us nothing about how Nan helps people dying think about their relationship to God. This instead tells us about Nan’s character. We do not need more telling about Nan’s character. But let that pass.
Mack, in this context is the unreliable narrator. He tells us that Nan thinks about God “differently than most people,” but then goes on to say that Nan thinks of God as her father–something that is not at all unique for Christians.
Unless the people Mack is talking to are from Planet Hide-Under-A-Rock, they know the basics of Christianity. At least here in the States it’s just one of those things you pick up on. And one of those basics is that God is referred to as a father. Whether or not this makes sense in a philosophical sense is open to discussion. However, these two families would absolutely understand the “god our father” reference. It would both make sense to them and not make Nan seem any different than most other Christians out there.
In any case, Mack goes on to say that he’s not comfortable calling God “Papa” because it feels too personal. We’re supposed to see this as a bad thing, because fundy Christians believe that God is supposed to be personal.
But honestly, religion is such a personal thing for people that I can’t agree with that viewpoint. Some people feel that their relationship to God is more formal. Some want the relationship to feel less formal. There’s nothing wrong with either approach.
Then Mack lets slip that it’s easier for Nan to see God as a father because she had a good one, unlike him.
Yanno, I’m really uncomfortable with the idea that the only people who see God as someone more distant and formal are the people who are part of the jerky fathers club. In fact, many are quite enamored with the idea of God being a father because their earthly fathers were jerks. Many people who feel that their earthly fathers are just fine don’t feel they need a sky-daddy. And that’s fine.
That being said, comparing God the father to our earthly father isn’t an abnormal comparison, so maybe I’m being a bit nitpicky.
Sarah, one of the people he’s been talking to, probes gently at Mack’s statement. She asks him to explain, if he feels like it.
“I guess you could say he was not too wonderful. He died when I was just a kid, of natural causes.” Mack laughed, but the sound was empty. He looked at the two. “He drank himself to death.”
In the prologue, we were told that Mack, as a teenager, put “varmint poison” in all of his father’s booze bottles. Are we supposed to read this contradictory statement as Mack’s discomfort about the exact details of his father’s death? Or do doctors just refer to death by alcohol poisoning as “natural causes?” Is this bad writing, or is this really subtle back shadowing?
In any case, Sarah and Jesse express sympathy, and we are told Mack senses their sincerity.
There’s an interlude where the children burst in on them–apparently Josh (Mack’s teenage son) and Amber (Sarah’s teenage daughter) were, gasp, CAUGHT HOLDING HANDS! It’s silly and it’s cute and it breaks the tension.
After the kids go to bed, Mack starts packing what he can until he runs out of daylight. Then he sits around the campfire and thinks about how blessed he is as he drinks coffee. Do people actually drink coffee right before they go to bed? How do they sleep? Oh nevermind.
After a section break, Mack and the kids wake up. They eat a breakfast of “cold cereal and half and half” because Mack burned the pancakes. Sarah shows up with a burn kit, and Kate and Josh ask to go for one last canoe ride. Mack agrees, and Kate and Josh take off. They’re wearing life jackets when Mack comes to find them moments later. Kate stands up in the boat to wave to her father, which tips the canoe over.
Kate bobs to the surface quickly, but Josh doesn’t. Mack jumps into the water and finds that one of the straps on Josh’s life vest has been caught in the webbing of the canoe. Josh is panicking, so he’s not really helping himself. Mack can’t get the vest out of the webbing, so he flips the canoe over, which somehow allows Josh to bob to the surface.
Mack administers rescue breaths and chest compressions. Josh soon starts to vomit “water and breakfast.”
The chapter ends with this ominous statement.
A potential crisis had been averted. Or so Mack thought.
Which is some seriously clunky foreshadowing.
This chapter was rather short because most of it was filler. I feel like I cut out a lot of unnecessary text. I really do think this book could be strengthened if it had been in the hands of a decent editor. This book was published by a Christian publishing company, which probably explains it. Christian media does tend to have a lower quality standard. I wish that wasn’t the case, but it does seem to be. If this book had been published by a secular publishing company, we’d not only see more rigorous editing, we’d see more nuance. And yeah, I do think a secular publishing company might have given this book a fighting chance if it thought the writing was good enough.
Because even people who might not consider themselves to be Christians would find it very interesting if a man met God in a shack in the woods. They might not be up for the preaching, and they’d have serious problems with the way Missy’s death is handled, but it could still be a book that would speak to them.
Even as an atheist, I think this could be an interesting storyline. As a Christian, I thought this book was “a good concept poorly executed.” As an atheist, so far, I think I agree. This book is just not done well, and it could have been.
Next week we read chapter 4, in which we finally get to the main point or this story: Missy’s disappearance.