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Wm. Paul Young's debut novel ''The Shack'' was a revelation in many ways. Whilst many disagreed with his theology, it was refreshing to see such an overtly faith based book on the bestseller lists. Personally, I found it a very moving story and whilst I thought it helpful on some points, it tended to skim over others. Now we get to see if Young can repeat his success with his new novel, ''Cross Roads''.
By all the measures that he cares to use, Anthony Spencer is a success. He has made large amounts of money and owns a lot of property. His personal life has not gone so well, with a son who dies young, an ex-wife who he married and divorced twice and an estranged daughter who hates him. His mother died when he and his brother were young and he harbours resentment for what he sees as her desertion and he has lost contact with his brother.
One day, Anthony collapses suffering from an undiagnosed brain tumour and is in a coma in hospital. Whilst in this state, he meets Jesus, who gives him the opportunity to return to put things right and confront areas of his life where he has not treated people well. He finds himself first in the body of Cabby, a 16 year old with Down's Syndrome and later Maggie, a friend of Cabby's.
''Cross Roads'' did not start well. In setting up the character of Anthony Spencer, Young uses far too many metaphors and the opening section of the book feels like he's trying too hard to write well. There's a sense of what Stephen King calls ''author intrusion'' and much of the writing feels like Young was trying to show off. It took too long and felt very uncomfortable to read. In trying so hard to write well, the result was an awful piece of writing.
Later, there were scenes that felt like padding. One scene between Anthony and Maggie in the church seemed to be there for comedic effect and did little to advance the plot. Later, a part with Pastor Skor and Maggie served only to introduce Elder Clarence who would be useful later on, but it felt like a long-winded and clumsy device merely to introduce a character.
However, just when I'd battled through these parts of the book and was primed to dislike it, something incredible happened. The latter parts of the book feature some incredibly vivid emotional writing that was nearly powerful enough to sweep away my earlier concerns. The ending in particular was enough to bring a tear to my eye, such was the emotional impact of the writing.
As in ''The Shack'' there are areas where Young's theology doesn't quite mesh with my own and certain aspects again felt slightly glossed over. In particular, the changes in Anthony's character seemed to happen more quickly and with less discussion than his earlier personality traits suggested were likely. It felt as if Young had an idea about how Jesus would speak into a situation, but less about how someone may argue against that wisdom.
However, in a number of other areas, the presentation was excellent. Young's personification of some of the negative aspects of Anthony's character as he confronted them was very imaginative. The presentation of the mind of an Alzheimer's sufferer from the inside and the picture of Anthony's memory holding on to his dead son were also very well portrayed.
As with ''The Shack'', I find myself feeling ambivalent about ''Cross Roads''. This is a book that contains both sublime and ridiculous, although not in that order. A few pages from the beginning, I was distinctly unimpressed, but a few pages from the end, I was greatly moved. This may not be a book to win Young too many new fans, but those who love his first will love this second. If you're seeking answers to faith questions, this isn't somewhere you will find those, but it's an interesting and emotional read in many parts, but whilst it's still a relatively new hardback and difficult to find for less than £7 or £8, it's worth borrowing rather than buying. Thanks to the success of "The Shack", I suspect many libraries may end up stocking it, so that shouldn't prove too difficult.
This is a slightly amended version of a review previously published under my name at www.thebookbag.co.uk