Friday, January 8, 2016

Book Notes: "The Salvation of Jeffrey Lapin", by Summer Kinard

". . . we have been given the grace of having our hearts broken. It was easy for us to see you."
"But you are all so beautiful." Jeff cleared his throat and sat up. "I can't think of you as broken."
"Think of us as healing, then. What you see that is so beautiful is the image of God peeking through as he heals us."
-The Salvation of Jeffrey Lapin, pgs. 209-210

"The Salvation of Jeffrey Lapin", by Summer Kinard, is an Eastern Orthodox vampire novel.

I know.  Why do you think I was compelled to pick it up?

When I first heard about this book, I cocked my head to the side in puzzlement - the same way you're probably doing right now! But when I heard a bit more about the premise, I knew I wanted to read it.

And honestly, after reading the whole thing, the premise is still my favorite part of the book. Here it is: Jeffrey Lapin is a vampire - a man who cannot die, who yearns to kill and eat the living - but he's that way because he is possessed by a demon. He longs to die. And when Maddy, a police officer who happens to be Eastern Orthodox, touches him, her touch burns his skin. It's the first thing that's ever hurt him since he was turned, and it gives him hope that he might have finally found a way to finally end his misery.

So he decides to commit suicide . . . via baptism.

I love that! I love it because it makes the premise actually work.

But, what Jeffrey doesn't consider is the fact that a traditional baptism service includes an exorcism. I imagine you can guess what happens next.

So, how did I like the book as a whole? I'm going to break it down into two categories: Things I Liked & Things That Didn't Quite Work For Me.

Things I Liked:
Again: the premise. Fascinating & bizarre, but Kinard actually made it make sense. Which shows that she is brilliant.

Also, I love that it's about supernatural things, but it approaches them Christianly. In a literary world with no lack of fantasy novels, this is rare and wonderful to stumble upon. For instance, I appreciated that the demon in the story actually sounded like a demon - blaming, accusing, etc. Another for-instance? Even though it was squirm-worthy to read, the author allows the broken, post-possessed man to make at least one truly weird, stomach-turning mistake. That's realistic to the damage evil does in us.

Above all, I appreciated that the answer to all the evil in the story was simple: it was Jesus.

I also liked that these characters lived in a real community. Too often books feature a hero and heroine who apparently have no family or neighbors or coworkers or acquaintances. That was not true of Jeffrey and Maddy, and I enjoyed the atmosphere of community in the book.

Things That Didn't Quite Work For Me:
It was so very, very Orthodox. Now, this clearly won't be a problem for everyone, and it shouldn't keep anyone from reading the book, but I mention it because it did pull me out of the story sometimes. In particular, there were several times where it felt like religion was treated too much like magic. Now, I've read enough EO theology that I know there are reasons behind treating icons, crossing oneself, etc. the way the characters do, but in the logic of the story, those actions still felt a little too much like talismans.

Let me be clear though: I would much rather read a book from a devout Christian I disagree with than a lukewarm Christian of my own denominational persuasion! So, I'm grateful to Kinard for being true to her tradition. The particular is always more interesting and honest than the general, including when it comes to the practices of various branches of the church.

The second thing that didn't work for me was more personal: I did not buy Maddy, the main female character, as a cop. Why? Because I know too many cops in real life. This was a problem because Maddy's main internal conflict was very related to her work, but the way it was set up and the way it all worked out just didn't ring true to me.

Finally, I felt like the story lost a lot of momentum once the initial problem - Jeffrey's possession - was solved. I did really like that we got to see the fallout of that, I liked that 100+ years of demonic residence left marks, and I liked the idea of seeing how recovery and healing worked in that situation. It just didn't kept me as engaged as the beginning did, though I think that might be largely because the second half was concentrated much more on Maddy's conflict which, as I said above, didn't work for me.

In the end, I'm glad I read this book, and I really, really hope that the world sees more and more Christian authors attempting to tell stories like this: stories that are challenging and creative, and stories where church communities and relationships really matter.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

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