Some authors manage to connect with huge audiences, but no author connects with everyone. Readers vary. They come to the page with a personal history, an education, a world view. They come seeking a specific experience -- escape perhaps, or entertainment, or enlightenment.
Some want action, romance, or suspense, and some want to meet a character who understands their deepest longings, fears, or sorrows. Some have short attention spans, and some love to linger long over exquisite passages, savoring the language as much as they do the story. Every reader is unique. And that's (one reason) why any review of any book should be taken as subjective.
That said, there are some objective questions that can be asked about any literary work. Does the writing style and content connect with the intended audience? Does the author accomplish what she set out to do? And that brings me to Letters from the Ledge by our own Lynda Meyers (aka, Madison Richards.)
Most writers I know say they write with an ideal reader in mind, and I'm guessing Lynda is no exception. I'm also guessing that, in the case of this particular book, I'm not that ideal reader.
The easiest way for me to describe Letters from the Ledge is to compare it to Salinger's iconic novel, Catcher in the Rye. In both books, the protagonist is a troubled teen, and the author bows to the character's voice. Letters isn't Lynda's story. It's Brendan's story. And Sarah's. Paige's, Nate's, and Tess's.
But there's a big difference between Holden Caulfield's self-absorbed, depressive, stream-of-consciousness angst as voiced by Salinger and Brendan's heart-breaking dance with self-destruction. The difference is the strong hand of Love hidden in the shadows.
God isn't center stage in Letters, and yet He's everywere.
If you like your hope served up in curly letters with hearts floating around them, Letters from the Ledge is not for you. I confess, I squirmed and cringed more times than I bothered to count, but not because the writing was sloppy, the characters shallow, or the plot full of holes. On the contrary. It was Lynda's skill -- not the lack of it -- that pulled me out of my comfort zone.
The book is exceptionally readable. I felt Brendan's pain and Paige's fear. I wanted to shake Ginny and wake her up. I mourned for Tess, cheered for Sarah. Yes, there's resolution and even a bit of happily ever after, but there's no shying away from brokenness and suffering. The language and subject matter belong to the streets of New York City, and the characters often search for meaning or comfort in all the wrong places.
Some Christians understandably have a hard time with that. Indeed, some would even say a Master's Artist has no business treading into that territory.
But I have to wonder.
If we don't meet hurting people where they live, how will they find their way Home? In Ann Kroeker's blog post about the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing, she quoted Gary Schmidt as saying, "Writers are servants who ask questions and point tentatively." If this is true, then Lynda has mastered servanthood. Because Letters isn't a bullhorn for conservative Christianity. It's a picture of common grace, of a Hand shaping our days in spite of us, of redemption through, not out of. The book asks more questions than it answers. And yet, where Salinger remains stuck in Holden's head, Lynda soars above injustice, abuse, corporate corruption, family dysfunction, and even death, inviting us to glimpse the grand design of a patient, engaged God.
I'm not Lynda's ideal reader, because it's been a long, long time since I was a prisoner to pain. I already know the wonder of a Love that will not let me go. I already believe that suffering serves His purpose and grace reaches into the darkest pits. I'm not teetering on the edge.
But a lot of people are, and they need to meet characters who understand their brokenness. Some may be ready for a sermon, but others? They won't listen if we preach. They need a servant who asks questions and points tentatively.
This letter wasn't written to me. It was written to them. And I hope it finds its way into their hands.
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Jeanne Damoff lives, reads, and writes in Dallas, Texas.