The Shack Chapter 5 (Part 1)

Chapter 5

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?


This is the chapter where the main plot actually begins. This is the part of the book where Mack makes an incredibly stupid decision and his best friend just lets him.

Intrigued? Let’s get started.

There are times when you choose to believe something that would normally be considered absolutely irrational. It doesn’t mean that it is actually irrational, but it surely is not rational.

Yes, actually, it does. That’s the definition of irrationality: something that is not rational. Words mean things.

Perhaps there is a suprarationality: reason beyond the normal definitions of fact or data-based logic; something that makes sense only if you can see a bigger picture of reality. Maybe that is where faith fits in.

No, faith doesn’t give you a bigger picture of reality, it gives you a different picture. And possibly an inaccurate one, if you put your faith in the wrong things.

Mack has come to 3 possible conclusions about the mysterious note he received:

  1. It is from God
  2. Cruel Joke
  3. From Missy’s killer.

If he honestly believes it could be from Missy’s killer, why hasn’t he told the police about it? Perhaps the killer has sent identical letters to the fathers of all the children he’s murdered. And it is entirely likely that it is a cruel joke. Last chapter we got told that Nan speaks at conferences about her relationship with God, and how she calls him “Papa.” Mack told the people he was talking to that night about “Papa” being her term for God. Since both he and Nan talk about it with practically every person they meet, It wouldn’t necessarily have to be someone close to the family to be able to sign it “Papa.”

Really, the only reason for Mack to believe the note is from God is because Mack has a direct line to the author. Or perhaps he really does want it to be true so badly that he’s willing to believe it. Humans do irrational things like that. But I would need the text to acknowledge that that is what is happening. The text here is trying to tell us that what Mack is doing makes absolute sense, because “faith.”

And I’m not buying it.

Mack doesn’t tell his wife what he is doing, because he is convinced he will be locked in a mental institution. He also rationalizes that he is keeping this a secret for her sake as well as his. We never do get a reason for this rationalization that makes sense, as we skip straight to:

Besides, acknowledging the note would mean admitting that he had kept secrets from her, secrets he still justified in his own mind. Sometimes honesty can be incredibly messy.

I’ve been out of the Christian community for quite some time. Is it now a thing that you can’t have any secrets from your spouse? And what secrets is Mack keeping from Nan? More importantly, why does Mack think these secrets are even something he should tell Nan? Unless his secret is that he’s dating another woman or that he enjoys murdering people in his spare time, why isn’t he allowed to have his secrets?

Oh. I bet that one of the secrets is that Mack killed his father. Or at least, that he tried to. This book has forgotten that, but I haven’t.

Because Mack is keeping all of this a secret, he looks for ways to get away from his family for the weekend without them knowing about it. But then the author realized that this makes Mack look like a jerk, so the author had Nan come up with something:

She had been toying with the idea of visiting her sister and her family up in the San Juan Islands…her brother in law was a child psychologist, and Nan thought that getting his insights on Kate’s increasingly antisocial behavior might be very helpful.

One minor nitpick: that word antisocial doesn’t mean what you think it means. The word you want is avoidant, or maybe asocial. Kate is avoiding people. In psychology, antisocial behavior refers to people who want to be around other people so they can behave in ways that are against the norms of society.

Also…. NO SHIT Kate should see a psychologist! Why is it taking you years to figure this out? Though Nan probably shouldn’t take Kate to anyone she’s related to. Kate may not feel comfortable opening up to someone she knows is going to rat her out to her mother. Kate needs to see someone who isn’t a family member in a professional setting so that she can have the confidentiality she deserves. And this should have happened 3 years ago.

So it’s settled that Josh, Kate, and Nan are going to Nan’s sister’s house for a week, thereby freeing Mack to spend a weekend with God.

Next, Mack calls Willie. Remember him, the rambly guy from the introduction who told us all about Mack and his family?

Mack wants to borrow Willie’s car, because it’s better for the snowy mountain driving Mack needs to do. Willie somehow knows that Mack is driving to the shack–because he has special knowledge from the author, I guess. There’s nothing in the conversation to indicate why Willie would figure that out. Mack hasn’t told him about the note.

After his family leave, Mack packs. He tells us that if God didn’t send the note, he wants to be prepared. Which…. sure. It’s hardly the thing in this book that has made the least amount of sense.

Anyway, almost as soon as Nan leaves, Willie arrives.

Their conversation must have been sufficiently perplexing to warrant an early visit. Mack was just relieved Nan had left already.

Well, yeah, no shit. You didn’t even tell Willie why you wanted to go to the Shack. To Willie’s credit, he tells Mack that he won’t give him the keys to the jeep without an explanation.

“I don’t know if my old Jeep’ll even keep us on the roads up there. But just in case, I put some chains in the back if we need them.”

We? Willie’s going too? You know what, good for Willie. He has no idea why Mack wants to go to the shack (and how he’s figured it out is a mystery), but he’s not going to let him go alone.

In this moment, I like Willie.

Mack shows Willie the note, and Willie reacts kinda sorta like I would.

“Wait, you aren’t thinking this is really from God, are you?…Have you thought about the possibility that this may be from Missy’s killer? What if he’s luring you back for some reason?”

Willie is bringing up very real concerns. He’s probably thinking, “oh shit, I knew my friend was behaving foolishly, but I didn’t know he was batshit insane.”

Mack replies that part of him is hoping that it is Missy’s killer, because Mack “has a score to settle with him.” But Mack also thinks that no one who’s not close to his family would know to sign the note “Papa.”

I feel like I’m a broken record, but Nan speaks at conferences about her relationship with God. You told the people you were camping with. Sometimes Serial killers stalk their families for a while. For all you know, the Little LadyKiller could be someone you sat around the campfire and talked with the night before Missy died. Really, you’d only have to have a passing familiarity with Mack to know who “Papa” is to him.

Willie argues that God wouldn’t send notes like that, and I can’t help but agree.

I mean, didn’t Jesus say, in the Bible, that the next time he came to earth it would be so obvious that every single person on the planet would see him? Yes, yes he did say that, and honestly that’s probably the second thing about this book that would bother a conservative Christian. Christian!Abby wasn’t bothered by this because Christian!Abby could put it aside for the sake of a good story. But yes, technically, this story does kinda go against the Bible. Since this book is marketed at Christians, it’s probably best for the author not to bring that up. It’s a minor nitpick, anyway.

Then we get this….

“I’m not sure, Willie. I guess part of me would like to believe that God would care enough about me to send a note. I’m so confused, even after all this time. I just don’t know what to think and it isn’t getting better. I feel like we’re losing Kate, and that’s killing me. Maybe what happened to Missy is God’s judgement for what I did to my own dad. I just don’t know….all I know is, I need to go back.”

The first part of this reads as the open and honest statement of a man who feels broken and hopeless….. and then the book suddenly remembers that oh yeah, Mack is a murderer.

Actually, let’s talk about this. See, humans aren’t usually killers. Many of us will even go our whole lives without even trying to kill someone. I may joke about murdering certain co workers who I wish would be hit by a bus, but if they actually got hit by a bus, I would feel guilty. I would be consumed by terrible feelings of sadness and guilt, feeling that somehow, by wishing the rude homophobic prick would get hit by a bus, I caused the rude homophobic prick to be hit by a bus.

Mack has actually killed someone. He didn’t accidentally kill his dad as his dad was abusing him. When Mack killed his dad, Mack wasn’t trying to protect himself. This isn’t even a case where Mack believed that killing his dad was the only way the abuse would stop.

If you recall from the introduction, after his dad beat Mack to within an inch of his life, killed his dad the minute he recovered, then ran away. But Mack was already planning to run away when he killed his father. He was already away from his abusive father when he went back and killed him. It was premeditated and not done in the heat of the moment.

Mack straight up murdered his father, and this is the first time he’s ever shown feeling anything about it. Mack should feel something about it. It should consume him. The last chapter should have shown him agonizing over whether or not God was taking his child as punishment for Mack’s having killed his father.

You know what we call people who kill people and don’t feel immensely guilty about it afterward? Sociopaths.

Look, there are things you can bring a character back from, and things you can’t. If Mack had killed his abusive father because he was trying to protect himself from his father’s violence, that would be a bit more of a gray area. If he had murdered him when, in a fit of anger, Mack decided to hit back and meant to incapacitate but not kill, that would be a bit of a gray area. But Mack was away from his father’s house, and he went back to kill him. That kind of cold, pre-meditated murder? Not a gray area.

Maybe you could still make Mack a sympathetic character after that, but only if you show him having extreme remorse. And we haven’t seen that from Mack at all. Actually, I haven’t seen any sign at all that Mack regrets killing his father.

I’m tentatively putting Mack in the sociopath category.

Also, Mack told Willie about murdering his father, but not Nan? And Willie….didn’t go to the police? You know what, nevermind. I don’t think the author really thought this through when he wrote it.

In any case, Mack and Willie are still talking. Willie has given up on trying to talk him out of it.

There was silence before Willie spoke again. “So, when do we leave?”

I don’t like Willie, for the most part. But here, I like him. Even after hearing about Mack’s insanity, he’s not letting him go alone. I’m glad you’re such a good friend, Willie.

“Thanks buddy, but I need to do this alone.”

“I thought you’d say that,” Willie responded has he walked out of the room. He returned with a pistol and a box of shells in his hands.

At first I thought Willie was actually going to shoot him if he insisted on going alone.

“I figured I wouldn’t be able to talk you out of going, so I thought you might need this. I believe you know how to use it.”

Wait, what? That’s it? Gah. This is why Willie is so frustrating as a character. He just lets Mack go alone after this. No, there’s probably nothing Willie could do to stop him, and physically restraining Mack might not be a possibility (though I would consider it a good idea if he did) but you know what Willie could do? Not hand over the keys to the jeep. Willie could say something like, “Sorry Mack, but either I’m coming with you, or you’re not going.”

He could, you know, not be an enabler.

Or he could call the police and tell them everything. They have the legal right and means to stop Mack. They would also be interested in potentially catching the killer.

Mack is reluctant to take Willie’s gun, because using violence to solve problems never worked for him before.

Wait, what? You just straight up murdered your dad, which you somehow got away with, and you don’t seem to feel guilty about (he only feels guilty in that God is punishing him for this by killing Missy. That’s not the same as feeling guilty for murdering his father. Again, sociopath.) Why the fuck do you not think violence solves your problems?

You know what? Set that aside. Mack just got done telling us that, even if it is Missy’s killer who sent the note, he doesn’t care because h’es “got a score to settle with him.” That sure sounds like violence to me.

If this had been consistent with the characterization of Mack so far,* I might be ok with this. But it’s not. Mack doesn’t seem to have an issue with violence and he doesn’t seem to have a thing about guns specifically, either. Which makes the gun reluctance very out of place.

Willie brings Mack to his sense, telling him he needs to go armed in case it’s Missy’s killer. Which…. I agree with…. but…. well, more on that in a minute.

Mack finally accepts the gun and the keys to the jeep.

As he’s about to leave, Willie asks what Nan thinks about all this. Understandably, he gets upset when he realizes Mack didn’t tell her.

Willie was obviously surprised. “What? You never keep secrets from her. I can’t believe you lied to her!”

Why is there an exclamation point? Why is Willie yelling? This isn’t something to– I mean, keeping secrets and lying to your wife isn’t something you would yell about. Of all the moments in this conversation to start yelling, this would be the wrong one. By now, Willie should be yelling his fool head off. The fact that he hasn’t been makes me think that he is in general a calm person who never really gets angry. So why is he angry here?

“I didn’t lie to her,” Mack objected.

“Well excuse me for splitting hairs,” Willie snapped back. “Okay, you didn’t lie to her because you didn’t tell her the whole truth. Oh yeah, she’s going to understand that, all right.” he rolled his eyes.

I agree with what Willie is saying here. Again, what makes no sense to me is his tone. Willie has been calm while Mack was telling him that God sent Mack a note asking him to meet Him at the place where his child got murdered. But when Willie finds out Mack lied to his wife about it, he suddenly gets upset?

No dawg. Willie should be beyond upset. Honestly, the only reason to point out Mack’s deceit is that it’s a red flag. It’s a red flag that Mack knows that what he is doing is wrong. Mack is doing some stupid shit, and he knows it. If Willie was going to get upset about this, that should be the reason.

Mack ignores Willie, and goes to get his car keys. By the time he returns, Willie has calmed down enough to ask him what he thinks God will look like.

“I can just see you scaring the living daylights out of some hiker–asking if he’s God and then demanding answers an’ all.”

You…. just gave this guy a gun. You gave Mack a gun and then makes jokes like this. If it hadn’t been for the gun, I’d think this was hilarious.

But what if Mack pulls out the gun, thinking the hiker is God? What if he starts threatening “god?” Yes, we all know you can’t kill god with a gun. That wouldn’t stop some people from trying.

Willie, seriously. You just sent your friend, who is clearly mentally ill,** alone to the woods with a gun. Even if you don’t believe that Mack is mentally ill because he thinks God is talking to him, you know that Mack has been very depressed for a long time. At the very least, aren’t you worried he might be going there to kill himself? And that you just made his job easier?

Why couldn’t the author have just left out the gun altogether? If he really felt the need to arm Mack, have Mack take his own damn gun. It still doesn’t solve the problem of why he has it, but it does make Willie look like less of an enabler.

Willie tells Mack that if God does show up, try not to piss him off. Good advice.

The chapter isn’t over, but we’re stopping here for now. I had a lot to say in this post, and I have a lot to say about the next part of this chapter, and I wish to be able to do it justice.

We’ll pick this up again next week.


*Actually, aside from what Willie tells us in the introduction, Mack doesn’t really have any characterization. And Christian!Abby just sort of pretended the introduction didn’t exist while she was reading this book (Christian!Abby wanted to like this book) so as far as Christian!Abby was concerned, Mack was a cardboard cutout with no feelings or characterization whatsoever.


**Yes, thinking that God is sending you letters is a sign of mental illness. Mack’s been under a lot of stress, I would not at all blame him if he snapped.


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