First Lines: Who wouldn’t be skeptical when a man claims to have spent an entire weekend with God, in a shack no less? And this was the shack.
If it hadn’t been for the Great American Read, I wouldn’t have probably read this. Or at the very least, I wouldn’t have read this this summer. Of course, I’d heard about this and even saw the movie (which I will be reviewing very soon!!) so it wasn’t like I didn’t know exactly what it was about. But…I was still interested.
Mackenzie “Mack” Philips’s daughter Missy was abducted and murdered during a weekend vacation, her body found in an abandoned shack in the Oregon wilderness. Four years later, while still suffering from guilt, Mack receives a letter apparently from God, inviting him to return to the shack for the weekend. Against his better judgment, Mack goes to the shack to face his darkest nightmare once more. What he finds there changes Mack forever.
Look, I’m the first person to tell you that I’m not exactly “religious”. My problem stems mostly from the organizations of religion rather than religion itself and this book–surprisingly–supported my thoughts on this topic. It’s not often I find a religion-based book that doesn’t make me roll my eyes or want to immediately put it down for all of the condescension. (Hello, Catholicism, my old frenemy.)
Mack is suffering from a horrific trauma that no parent should have to go through (but unfortunately, some do). He’s a bit bitter, he’s lost, and he’s stuck in his life. He’s completely relateable. There’s a lot of empathy we as readers feel for him. We get it. We would probably feel the same way in his place.
But of course the real interesting characters are Papa, Jesus, and Saranyu. I don’t want to say too much if you truly don’t know what this story is about, but just suffice it to say they steal most scenes they’re in, especially when more than one of them are in the same scene.
The story is bittersweet, which is exactly what I was expecting. I was looking for a story about someone moving on from a tragedy. That in itself is always going to be bittersweet.
I do have two minor complaints about the book. The first is that no matter how many times I read certain passages, I just didn’t get them. It’s a lot of philosophy and sometimes, it just went way over my head. But that seemed to be what the characters (and by extension, the author) were going for. The other is that the emotions didn’t always feel real. There were times in the book that felt a little…patronizing? At the very least, there was something awkward or forced about the emotions in just a couple of scenes. It just seemed awkward at times. Like I said, these are just minor complaints and really didn’t detract from my overall reading experience.
I do think it’s the kind of book that everyone should try once because there’s a lot of wisdom in it, even if you are’t particularly religious. At its core (well, besides the religious core), it’s the story of a man dealing with an unimaginable loss and growing as a person. This is also the kind of book I think I’ll be pulling out again from time to time when I’m at a crossroads. It’s just that kind of book.