Book Review: Cross Roads by Wm Paul Young

Only the second book by Wm Paul Young, author of surprise bestseller The Shack, Cross Roads is an incredibly complex and ambitious book which needs to be read slowly, carefully and thoughtfully, and ideally with a notepad to hand.

Tony Spencer is a character I had problems getting to grips with. At the start of the book he's ambitious, sociopathic and paranoid. A brain tumour leaves his body in a coma and his soul, or maybe his spirit (the book did explain the difference but not in a way I could understand) wandering in a wilderness which represents his mind and interacting with Irish Jack, Jesus, and a Native American Grandmother who turned out to be the Holy Spirit. He responds by breaking down in remorse, and later he shows depths of compassion which seem at odds with the character built up in the first chapter. He also seems to take all the strange things that happen to him entirely in his stride, and knows a vast amount about Christianity for someone whose only religious teaching is from his late mother. In short, I wasn't convinced by Tony. But somehow that's okay, because actually I'm not sure the book was about him.

Part narrative, part metaphor but primarily sermon (maybe even treatise), as with The Shack the story and the character of Tony are largely the vehicle used to carry the religious message. And it is a book which has a lot to say on the subject of religion. I'm a deeply and devoutly religious person, but it got a bit much even for me at times and I enjoyed the moments of respite when there was actual narrative action. Even so, there was a great deal of profound truth, from "There are many ways to be alone" on page 2, to the poem on page 268 and Tony's ultimate understanding and triumph. It would be a hard-hearted reader indeed who was not, somewhere within the book, enlightened and enriched by new understandings and concepts, whatever their personal religious belief.

That's not the only similarity with The Shack, however. Despite the apparently very different subject matter I felt at times that I was reading a sequel. There were some wry nods to The Shack, but also some similar themes. One of the reasons I didn't like The Shack was because the violent murder of a child was a central theme and I find it difficult to read such things–I don't read misery memoirs, for example. Well, there's a dead child in Cross Roads too, and a shack, and three very familiar spiritual characters interacting with the father of that child, conveying creative concepts by means of very complex and lengthy sermons. (Like Young, I love a drop of alliteration.)

Young has been keen to address some of the criticism levelled at his theology in The Shack, with a lengthy defence of the Trinity doctrine to reassure readers who once again have qualms at his depiction of the Godhead, and several other reassurances which occasionally stood out uncomfortably against the story, especially for a non-Trinitarian such as myself with some views at odds with his. But the upshot is that he is unlikely to get the establishment backlash he suffered following his first book.

A great many people have reported that The Shack changed their lives. They won't be disappointed by the similarly powerful Cross Roads. Even those, like me, who find it rather heavy going will still draw from it profound and poignant ideas which will permeate their lives on every level. (And there I go with that alliteration again.)


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