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Books: Redemptive fiction

Books | An apocalyptic novel that combines Sci-Fi, the western, and allegory transcends its flaws

Issue: "Campaigning from the closet," Sept. 19, 1998

Christian author John L. Moore sets his fifth novel in the Montana of his imagined not-too distant future, where severe plagues and earthquakes have depopulated the West (hence the many empty houses). The rule of men has collapsed, while the wild kingdom-especially bears and wolves-has increased. There is no law, and every man does what is right in his own eyes. Many join tribes: Some are Cannibals, others spaced-out Pilgrims or fascist Patriots.

Across this antinomian landscape strides Daniel, the lone ex-Army Ranger, administering a rough justice while himself being pursued by a shadowy assassin known only as Robert. Enter Deborah, miracle-working superevangelist from the still-civilized East, who talks the reluctant Daniel into guiding her to the lost tribes she hopes to convert. Along the way they encounter the Irreverend Flowers, a fallen TV evangelist, and Lady LeClaire, witch, seductress, and leader of a New Age cult, as they trudge on toward the showdown with Robert.

It's a wild story-part Western, part Sci-fi, part Christian allegory-and overall an imaginative outworking of the dramatic potential inherent in post-trib eschatology, even though the name of Jesus is never directly invoked.

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Mr. Moore is a writer of some skill, but after five novels he really should be doing a better job with characterization. At points in the travel narrative, Daniel and Deborah bicker like Katherine Hepburn and John Wayne in the movie Rooster Cogburn. Their love story enhances reader interest, but too often their dialogue is predictable and their personalities one-dimensional. Other characters are even more stock. Lady LeClaire, for example, is Duessa right out of Spenser's The Faerie Queene, and her demise is half Jezebel from the Bible and half She Who Must Be Obeyed from the H. Rider Haggard novel She. Plus there are irritating lapses in diction, from irrelevant detail (Daniel carries a "Dakota Arms Custom-made 30/378 with a ten-power Leupold scope") to overabundant clichés (the "rifle weighed a ton"). Mr. Moore really must write harder next time, or find a better editor.

Nonetheless, I forgive all these flaws and pronounce my benediction on this work. Mr. Moore has the right idea, and he is moving in the right direction. Unlike much contemporary "literary" fiction, which is either subversive or little more than character sketches, something actually happens in Mr. Moore's story, and the events culminate in meaning. He has joined the struggle to produce redemptive fiction.

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