What is a mother to do?
Believing she bears some responsibility, a worried mother consistently asks this.
In Darcie Chan’s novel, The Mill River Redemption, young mother of two daughters, Josie DiSanti makes urgent decisions during a crisis. Years later, she makes decisions in order to alter the lives of her now adult daughters, in order to alter the relationship between the sisters. Readers will ask, “Was Josie justified to take such extreme measures?”
I began “The Roaming Reader” series in March, promising to review eight books, beginning with a nonfiction volume, The Roots of American Order by Russell Kirk (note last two posts). Now we turn to fiction, a lighter read, but one containing weighty, family themes.
The universal wisdom of Russell Kirk’s themes become evident by observing those same threads woven through other books, indeed, through our own lives. Order and disorder. The order and disorder of the soul. The order and disorder of the commonwealth. Between the soul and the commonwealth flows the order and disorder of the family. Conflict tests the order and reveals the chaos. How will we respond? Like Josie, what will we do?
This is a novel I normally would not have read. It was given to me along with two other novels in March when we were in Florida. The three books were discarded from a church library. My friend picked them up at the mission thrift shop at Good Samaritan Mission where we’ve been volunteering for many years. Hmm. Why would a church library have this novel? Published in 2014, it’s not a poorly written book. It piques your interest quickly. But it’s not particularly “Christian,” though it does have a kindly and quirky priest.
If you are wanting to promote literature that will build biblical literacy in your church folk, this will not do that. If you want literature that will nurture a biblical worldview, this won’t help much. But if you want story lines that you can use as illustrations in connection with other material or teaching for the purpose of building biblical literacy and worldview, then this novel may find a place.
Many churches no longer have libraries, believing or accepting that few read books today. For those that do have libraries, churches must decide what to include and what not to include. Some church libraries have large fiction sections that provide modern novels that are simply an alternative to indecent romance, wild sci-fi, or thriller novels. Darcie Chan’s work is far superior to the drivel and pulp that is common. Nonetheless, I wondered at the inclusion of this book. A white tag on the side added by the church librarian listed it under the category, “Women’s Fellowship.”
I would like to see Christian women strengthen their faith by building their biblical literacy through excellent Bible dictionaries, commentaries, and expository studies on each book of the Bible. I would like to see Christian apologetics on the shelves. The inclusion of Christian biographies is important in order to demonstrate what a lived out faith looks like (successes and failures) and thus to strengthen others in the faith. Biographies clarify, encourage, and inspire.
What is the place of Christian fiction? I would say that the proper place of Christian fiction is similar to the role of biographies — to illustrate the faith worked out in people’s lives which clarifies the Christian faith, thus encouraging and inspiring. The Bible as a library of 66 books, so varied, creative, and reliable, includes many genre, such as history, biography, poetry, prophecy, hymnody, maxim, parable, and epistle (letters both personal and corporate). Fiction, as well as other genre, holds an appropriate place for creative expression that reflects God’s involvement in our lives and world.
The KJV interprets II Timothy 2:15, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Note this verse in other translations, within its context, and in reference to other related passages by checking out this link: https://biblehub.com/2_timothy/2-15.htm . Biblehub.com is a great tool for Bible study.
We often apply this verse to the study of the Word of God, which is a true part of this verse, but not the whole thing. “Study” is also translated “Do your best,” “Work hard,” “Be diligent.” The phrase, “rightly dividing” in the KJV is translated as “handling accurately” in the NASB.
The Amplified Bible, which really is an interpretive paraphrase (“to give the sense” thereof, as Ezra once did) explains this verse this way:
“Study and do your best to present yourself to God approved, a workman [tested by trial] who has no reason to be ashamed, accurately handling and skillfully teaching the word of truth.”
So, what am I getting at? I’m getting at the idea that the diligent study and accurate handling of Scripture includes a lifestyle application. Otherwise there would be reason for shame; God’s approval would not be possible. The context of this verse makes this clear. II Timothy 2 ends with the instruction that “the Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth…” (verses 24-25; read 26).
I mentioned Ezra parenthetically. This OT leader of the Aaronic priestly line, a scribe and teacher, led a group of Israelites from Babylon to Jerusalem. Ezra and the Levites read the law of Moses to the Israelites who had returned from Babylon (Nehemiah 8:1-8). Nehemiah 8:8 says that “they read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense, so that [the assembled Jews] understood the reading.”
Back in Jerusalem, the Hebrew people needed to learn afresh their history. This is biblical literacy. Through literacy, they developed a biblical worldview, seeing life from God’s perspective. Then, Ezra helped them apply it to their own situations, which was often traumatic. Read Ezra and Nehemiah, and you’ll see what it meant to live as God’s chosen people among pagan people. The price was huge, but the result is that the Jewish people survived, gave us our Savior, and they exist today, in America, in their own country of Israel, and in other countries around the world. Without Ezra’s instruction and reforms, world history and our own stories (saying we’d have been born) would be dramatically altered.
The hand of the LORD God was upon Ezra (Ezra 7:6), and like Daniel (Daniel 1:8), Ezra was responsive to his God. “For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD, and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). Ezra gave us the Learn-Do-Teach model.
Back to Darcie Chan’s novel, The Mill River Redemption. I identified with Josie, the young mother, though I never experienced what she experienced.
The power of story is the power of witnessing people live their lives, growing their own souls as they engage in the events of their own lives — all while we compare their stories to our own.
We test the story’s characters: they are real, they are fake; they are flat, changing little; they are rounded, maturing and improving; they are redeemable and grow; they become irredeemable and are deformed.
In Josie’s story, the young mother’s house burns down with her husband in it, but Josie and her two young daughters escape. Moving to Mill River, Vermont to live with her mother’s sister whom she barely knows (why is that?), Josie picks up her pieces and starts over. In time, she succeeds in real estate and provides well for her daughters, Rose and Emily, but there are unanswered, haunting questions. Will there ever be answers?
In young adulthood, spirited Rose and reserved Emily, with such contrasting temperaments, clash and finally another terrible tragedy thoroughly breaks their sister-bond. Can it ever be renewed?
What will a mother do to bring her daughters together again? My problem with the plot is that Darcie Chan has Josie create a rather preposterous plan to nearly force reconciliation.
Bringing your biblical literacy and worldview to this book, a reader can compare and contrast God-honoring responses to human or thoroughly human responses. In each trial, how could your knowledge of God, his sovereignty, His presence, and His provision shape your decisions? Is Josie playing God? Could she have pulled this off? Does it work? And so many other questions can be asked.
The book closes with a section including a series of questions and topics for discussion. The author clearly sees her novel as a work that could be helpful to mothers, daughters, aunts, and all family members.
While I would not have picked up this book on my own, I can see its benefit, if read reflectively and prayerfully. (There is also the benefit of entertainment and mental relief.) We can always learn from others, even fictional others.
I identify with two daughters. My parents had two daughters. I had two daughters. My mother had two sisters. Mothers and daughters. No matter how biblically literate I am, no matter how clear my biblical lenses, I still have to work out my sanctification (Christian maturity) through my relationships. And I have to say I am disappointed in part with the model I’ve been to my family. Josie and her daughters cut through my own experience, causing me to reflect more, pray more, hurt more, and maybe I’ll grow more like Jesus by remembering not to take the reins of my life the way Josie did.
Some dilemmas need to be left alone — at the cross. In prayer. Keep putting them there. I’m not good at this. I pick them up and put them down and pick them up and put them down. I pray. God is God; in Him, not in myself, I trust.
II Corinthians 5:10 consoles and warns me: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”
II Corinthians 5:9 motivates me: “Therefore also we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.”
The Mill River Redemption by Darci Chan illustrates some good lessons for me. Josie unintentionally reminds me that there is a way that seems right to me and I should not trust it. Sisters, Rose and Emily, illustrate the tremendous investment it requires to mend broken relationships. What could be more important? Clever though Darci Chan is, she and all authors remind me that we have a wiser author for our stories — the Author and Finisher of our faith. Thanks be to Him.