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Saturday, August 02, 2008

My review of The Other Side of Darkness by Melody Carlson

About the book:

Once again, I have kept the demons at bay.

As a wife and mother, Ruth knows her prayers are crucial to her family’s spiritual welfare. She stands between her precious children and the evil one, doing battle in prayer. She can’t afford to be careless. Thankfully, she has powerful allies: Pastor Glenn, New Life Christian School where her daughters Mary and Sarah attend, and the inner circle at Arbor Drive Fellowship. They all reinforce her careful nurturance of her children.

If only her husband, Rick, understood that. He’s exasperated about the money Ruth keeps spending for the church and school. Doesn’t he see that these are their best defenses in shielding their children from the dangers of the world?

But the forces that threaten Ruth’s faith, her family–-her very life–-are not the ones she expects. Ruth doesn’t realize that her heartfelt desire to obey God is mingled with dangerous currents of OCD–-Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Her own strategies for protecting her family may be the very thing that tears them apart.

My review:

The Other Side of Darkness is a powerful, but dark novel about a woman battling with mental illness. You as the reader are in her head, so you see the world the way she sees it. That makes the book a hard read because who wants to feel like they are going crazy? But it is good in other ways because it helps give the reader insight into people who suffer from severe OCD.

The troubling thing about this story is that it sweeps you away. And while that shows the author did a great job with characterization, you also start to feel the frustration and all that goes with it. Also, there are a lot of people who believe similar things who are Christians. How do you sort that all out? The main character seemed to be a Christian and she knew the Scriptures, but then she was influenced by her OCD.

I admired that Ruth prayed a lot, but then things took a dark turn and though she kept praying she only got sicker. So it makes you wonder if she was seeking the Lord with her whole heart, which it appears that she was, why did the cultish group gain so much power over her mind? I think it went back to her childhood issues. They made her vulnerable to compliments and needing to feel wanted, which this weird church was good at making her believe.

As the story progressed it almost seemed like rather than casting demons out, Ruth was bringing them home with her! Now I am not a person who believes there is a demon under every bush, but there is such a thing as opression. It was true that her church friends gave more attention to the enemy than the Savior, and that was a bad thing.

But it still bothers me that she was so sincere, yet it was wrapped up in her illness. So how does one know whether they are hearing from God, or just losing their mind? In this story Ruth spent most of her time listening to other people tell her about what the Bible said so they shaped her thinking. It seemed like whenever the Bible was read apart from the "cultish church" it worked to bring health and life to Ruth's family.

The bottom line is that this was an unsettling, but powerful read. I didn't feel much hope, however, or I'd rank it higher. In real life there are not always happy endings, but in this case that could've been elaborated on more so the reader isn't left feeling bummed despite the good things that happened. That's the tricky part about writing a story with dark themes. The light has to shine brighter so the reader feels hope. And yes, there is some hope offered, but I'm not sure it's enough, because I never got the sense that Ruth ever really heard from God by the story's end. Hope that makes sense. Read it for yourself and then you decide.

The Other Side of Darkness is published by Multnomah and will be released in Sept. 2008.

1 comment:

Kay Day said...

This sounds really interesting to me. I really liked Crystal Lies and Finding Alice.

A few years ago God showed me that I was using prayer as a means to try to control my world. "If I just pray enough, nothing bad will ever happen to my kids." I had the idea that I could change people through prayer. I don't know where it came from... but my prayers have become more focused on surrender and less on what I think God should do.

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