A barrel jellyfish floats in Slovenia. Photograph by WaterFrame, Alamy
Photo courtesy of National Geographic
In 2008, Douglas Wilson wrote the novel Evangellyfish. It was one of his attempts to break out into the Christian mainstream, as rather than immediately publishing it under Canon Press, he shopped it around and tried to get it printed under someone more legitimate than his vanity label. After getting nothing but rejection letters (snippets of which he posted online) he decided to publish the book chapter by chapter online at Evangellyfish.com (now defuct). Eventually, he bit the bullet, embraced the inevitable and in 2012 the book was published under, you guessed it, Canon Press.
The benefit of this is I believe that Evangellyfish offers a deep look into the shallow waters of Wilson’s worldview, how he sees the world and his place in it. Thanks to his decision to push it online first (I don’t know why he decided to do this instead of just pushing it to Canon Press. Maybe he thought it would drum up excitement?) the book is available, for free, to all of us to review. You can access it here.
First things out of the way, this is basically a NaNoWriMo novel and it feels like it. The word count is barely above 50,000, which is not damning in and of itself but definitely something I’d consider before dropping $20-$25 for the hardcover. Next off, this book won the Christianity Today 2013 Book of the Year award in Fiction, which probably means that there is some merit here I can’t see. I’m sure much smarter, more well-read people than myself determine those awards.
At the very least this has inspired me to get serious about NaNoWriMo next year, if this book qualifies then I’m sure I could crank something similar out.
Chapter One starts to by introducing us to our hero and Doug Wilson stand-in, John Mitchell. He’s Baptist, but still drinks a little (maybe celebratory Lagavulin?), he has a beard (of course), and he’s manly enough that he’ll give a lout a black eye if he gives him reason. He also makes unusual references to describe his job, a seemingly out of context quote to the movie Fletch and describing everything he does as “deeply rooted in the blues”. If anyone can make sense of those two references for me, I’d deeply appreciate it. All I can think of for that last bit is a fairly famous Onion article. Like Wilson, Mitchell has an undergrad in philosophy, unlike Wilson, Mitchell went to seminary. See? There are just enough key differences to throw you off.
We’re also introduced to Chad Lester, a pastor at a megachurch (of course) who Mitchell gave that black eye when it looked like Lester was advancing on his sister-in-law. Lester is, right away, an odious fiend. Calling Mitchell in for help but calling him out as a “better-than-you boy” when he arrives. Lester does not drink, except when he does. And when he does he drinks like he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Not like a man who enjoys Lagavulin, this man grabbed a bottle of tawny port (I do love a good port) to illustrate that he doesn’t know how to drink. He’s also turned on the hotel pornography, you know, out of reflex, doesn’t even know it’s on, just to drive it in what a creep this guy is.
And that’s basically chapter one. On one side we have manly, bearded, eye-blackening, family man John Mitchell and on the other side we have lecherous, pornography watching creep Chad Lester who doesn’t know how to drink properly.
There’s definitely no straw-men or Mary-Sues in this book.
And if anyone can explain that Fletch quote or what “Deeply rooted in the blues” means, I’d really appreciate it. Maybe this is why Mitchell’s congregation is so small.