NOTE: I had all this written and formatted and was doing a final proofread when this popped up in my Twitter feed:
Bloody hell. Un.Effing.Believable.
The previous posts:
Oh. You thought we were all in the “Over It” phase of the Outrage Cycle? I want to be “over it.” But I’m not.
This epic manifesto is an attempt to render my tangle of thoughts into a coherent analysis. By “epic,” I mean long (you are not surprised). By “manifesto,” I mean pseudo-intellectual ranting with fake academic subheadings and loads of pretentious “-ism” words and footnotes. I think “manifesto” implies “long” as well, so I’m already being redundant but I really like the word “manifesto” because it makes me feel very…powerful…in a “didn’t-even-have-to-get-off-the-couch-woohoo!” kind of way. I’m keeping “epic” too because people look for “epic” stuff and that will totally boost my SEO and I might even go viral.
I really like run-on sentences.
This post is the first of…several? I keep finding new stuff and then I have to rewrite everything and I have no idea how you author types ever actually get anything done.
If you’re sticking around for this, get yourself a snack and settle in.
The obligatory #NotAllChristians intro to prove how enlightened I am about my recognizing and acknowledging my privilege and no that’s not hypocritical at all shut up and let me finish I’m just getting started here
As with my previous posts, I am thinking and researching and writing about For Such a Time1 because I am part of the target market. I’m writing this to (1) justify how much time I’ve spent obsessing over this book; (2) validate my righteous indignation; and (3) process why this has become some kind of personal mission for me.
I know the author and publishers have their fingers in their ears. They clearly don’t care.
I do care. I care a lot. I’m learning a lot. I hope my voice will help escalate the discussion from a different kind of “Christian worldview” – one that not only cringes at but thoroughly disavows self-righteous revisionism and supersessionism.
I can’t write about it from anyone else’s point of view. I can only read what others have written2 and internalize their stories to reinterpret what I’ve read and inspire me (see what I did there?) to learn more.
I think I will request “Learn More” as the epitaph on my gravestone. When I die in a book avalanche.
In which I use the word “deconstruct” unironically.
I know. I had to. It’s the only way some high-minded people will take this manifesto seriously. Which is completely understandable what with all the gay werewolf orgies and whatnot around here.
Are you ready? Here we go:
*straightens bra straps*
The purpose of this post is to deconstruct why the novel For Such a Time by Kate Bresline fails its intended audience and its sub-genre of religious fiction.
Whether we call label it “Christian fiction” or “inspirational fiction,” whether it’s marketed as an “allegory” or a “retelling” or a “reframing” or even a mere “inspired by,” this book is a full-on hot mess of plug-n-play Bible verses presented with all the subtlety of a Looney Tunes anvil dropping.
If you mess with — or ignore — the basic elements of the original story, you change the outcome. Unless you’re specifically calling it a fairy tale or alternate history, not acceptable in an allegory/retelling.
If you mess with — or ignore — the basic elements of the original story, you change the meaning and the impact. Never acceptable in a retelling of a Bible story.
By (1) ignoring reader expectations; (2) cherry-picking superficial bits of the source material; (3) conflating the story with scriptural themes unrelated to the source material; (4) relying on deus ex machina and proof-texted divine interventions to drive the plot; and (5) deliberately choosing a setting solely for shock value, this so-called “inspirational” novel ignores and subverts the themes and messages of the Book of Esther so badly as to be nearly unrecognizable.
Instead of “reframing” the characters and themes of the Book of Esther to support the message God wants us to hear, Breslin uses whatever Bible verses she can find to support the story she wants to tell.
- I am not a Bible scholar; all opinions and observations and conclusions are my own. If you don’t agree, please – in all sincerity – call me out. I’m here to learn.
- I’m using the terms “Bible” and “Biblical” for simplicity and my own familiarity.
- I’m trying very hard to avoid snark and profanity and all-caps ranting. Wish me luck.
Also, please note I used a Looney Tunes analogy before the disclaimer. If all abstracts had Wile E. Coyote shout-outs and kicked off with a Ritual Straightening of the Bra Straps, I would have stayed in grad school.
I started out with a detailed plot summary to make sure I captured all of the key scenes and characterizations in For Such a Time.
After a lengthy brain-bleach, I began a “side-by-side” analysis of the key verses and themes in the Book of Esther and the counterparts in FSAT, using the New International Version of the Holy Bible, cited on the copyright page of the novel as the primary source of scripture quotes.
Side by Side: The Book of Esther and For Such a Time [Google doc3]
I gave up. Beyond the character names, the parallels were hollow and uncomfortable at best, frequently eye-rolling, and all too often utterly disgraceful.
Oh, fudge. I’m not supposed to opinionate in the methodology, am I? Oops.
That was sarcasm, not snark.
Also, my overuse of adjectives and adverbs is completely intentional because I too have access to a thesaurus and I’m not afraid to beat people over the head with it for dramatic effect.
That was sarcasm as well. Still with me?
I then delved into Bible studies and commentaries on the Book of Esther published by Bethany House and other leading Christian publishers. For this post, my expert advisory panel includes:
- Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther by Leslie C. Allen and Timothy S. Laniak, 2012, from the Understanding the Bible Commentary Series published by Baker Books, a sister imprint of Bethany House.
- A Walk Thru4 the Book of Esther: Courage in the Face of Crisis, 2010, part of the Walk Thru³ the Bible series published by Baker Books.
- Esther by Karen H. Jobes, 2011, from the NIV Application Commentary series published by Zondervan.
- Esther: A Woman of Strength and Dignity by Charles R. Swindoll, 1997, from the “Great Lives from God’s Word” series published by Thomas Nelson.
I also read numerous commentaries and articles from Jewish authors and bloggers5; I am purposefully not referencing these here to keep with my “intended audience/target market” perspective. Also, because it’s painfully obvious the author actively avoided anything actually, you know, <whisper>Jewish</whisper>. Because of…you know…*looks around suspiciously*…<whisper>Jew cooties</whisper>.
That was snark. See the difference? It’s a fine line sometimes.
A “Hey! I researched stuff! Lookit lookit lookit!” sidebar
How can you look at something that stunningly beautiful and glowingly spiritual and not want to learn where it came from and who created it and where they lived and how they used it and…everything? What is the point of being a novelist if you don’t geek out over stuff like this???
I DO NOT UNDERSTAND.
Rats. There goes my “no all-caps ranting.”
Ignoring reader expectations
See, I can get to an actual point. Eventually.
To steal the words of a Twitter friend, Bethany House broke a contract with me as a reader.
I championed the publisher as a great source of non-preachy inspirational romances with great non-Regency historical settings.
“Trust me!” I said. Because I trusted them.
Now, my rallying cry is “I am not affiliated with them! They do not represent me!”6
As an inspie reader, I trust7 that authors and editors and publishers of “Christian fiction” know their Bible. I trust inspie authors to do their research, both historical and Biblical. I trust editors at religious publishing houses to do their due diligence to ensure their fiction titles are theologically sound.
I just invented a name for this: my Default Reader Trust Mode. It works for any and all genres.
Yes, “theologically sound” is impossible to define; the translations and interpretations and commentaries are endless. But the whole point of fictionalizing Bible messages and Bible stories is that there are universal truths and guiding principles that still apply to our everyday lives.
Biblical characters experienced God in complex situations, and so do we. By portraying those situations realistically, we learn how to apply the Bible to our own lives.
~ A Walk Thru the Book of Esther
Emphasis mine on the “realistically.” Nearly every inspie I’ve read – including those from Bethany House – focuses on one of those universal truths. There’s a single Bible verse as an epigraph, and the story is built around characters struggling with understanding and living out that seemingly simple but ever-elusive faith message.
Why the author, editors and publisher of For Such a Time ignored this construct is completely beyond me.
Instead of a story of people struggling with faith and hope in a real-life version of hell on earth, we’re force-fed a “romance” built on Stockholm syndrome surrounded by Hollywood melodrama and stuffed with Dial-A-Scripture platitudes.
*sits on hands* <muffle>nosnarknosnarknosnark</muffle>
After three close reads, I still don’t know what the central faith message of this book is supposed to be, much less how it applies to my own spiritual life. And that’s because it’s trying to tell too many stories at once – and not telling the whole story.
To be continued…. How’s that for a cliffhanger, eh?
1 I am purposefully using the full title and author’s name, because at this point in the Outrage Cycle, euphemisms like “That Book” only serve to diminish and ignore the issues we still need to talk about.
- Sara Taylor Woods: Twitter | Tumblr
- Katherine Locke: Twitter | Tumblr
- KK Hendin: Twitter
- India Valentin: Twitter | Tumblr
- Jen Rothschild: Twitter | Blog
- Bogi Takács: Twitter
- Shira Glassman: Twitter | Blog
- Dahlia Adler: Twitter
I “met” all of these people online only because of the controversy, and they’re doing an excellent job at poking holes in my white privilege. They’re probably getting tired of me favoriting and retweeting everything they post.
- Christians have fallen in love with Queen Esther, Purim’s Jewish heroine
- Esther: Midrash and Aggadah
- Esther: 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia
- JPS Bible Commentary: Esther
- Vashti & Esther: A Feminist Perspective
- Reading the Megillah
- Esther, the Megillah, and Me
- The Concealed Face of God
- Purim Themes and Theology
- The Unexpected Gems I Found in Megillat Esther
- Megillah with In-Depth Commentary—Side by Side Version
- The Complete Story of Purim
- Esther: Hidden Beauty
- Esther — The Jewish Woman
- The Secret of the Book of Esther
- Purim: There’s something about Esther
- Queen Esther: Patron Saint of Crypto-Jews
- Esther in Ancient Jewish Thought (only the online preview, not available in any of my local libraries, dammit)
- Esther’s Hidden Strength
- Esther Scroll
- Words Like Sapphires: 100 Years of Hebraica at the Library of Congress, 1912–2012
- Megillat Esther graphic novel by JT Waldeman
Don’t ask where those starting points led me. I haven’t really come back yet.
Most of these aren’t new, but they’re too powerful to let slip into the cracks.
- Why Am I Angry? and Bethany House’s Statement, Rewritten and RWA “Statement” Corrected by KK Hendin
- An Open Letter to Bethany House and RWA and RWA response to That Book and Bethany House and Kate Breslin Respond to That Book by Jen Rothschild
- The “Good German” narrative and A Jewish Fantasy Kingdom by India Valentin
- On For Such a Time by Kate Breslin and Writing the Holocaust and And I Will Not Be Silent and Ready or Not: Anti-Semitism and Kate Breslin’s For Such a Time by Katherine Locke
- I’m a blonde and blue-eyed “Jewess” too at Shira Glassman’s Tumblr
- The Problem of Jewish Erasure; or, Why We’re Still Talking About That Book and Don’t try to goysplain my cultural grief by Sara Taylor Woods and
- We Need to Have This Discussion by Corrina Lawson
- My letter to Bethany House by Sarah Aronson
- 5-stars review of “For Such a Time” by Rose Lerner
- The Pastoral is Political: Not Your Story to Tell by lutheranjulia
- No More Love for Christian Author’s Holocaust Romance at Christianity Today
- Such Times… by Bobbie Dumas at Kirkus Reviews
- My Comments on For Such a Time by Kate Breslin by Keira Soleore
- Esther Actually series by Rachel Held Evans:
1. Esther Actually: Princess, Whore…or Something More
2 .Esther Actually: Purim, Persia, Patriarchy – Setting the Stage
3. Esther Actually: Vashti, the Other Queen
4. Esther Actually: What happens in the harem…
- The Bible Through Artists’ Eye: Esther and Ahasuerus
- The Queen Esther Mosaics of Lilian Broca and Renowned Canadian artist Lilian Broca’s monumental mosaic series, “The Queen Esther Mosaics” celebrated in a stunning new book and Review of “The Hidden and the Revealed: The Queen Esther Mosaics of Lilian Broca” – be sure to read the quotes from the artist about her childhood in Communist Romania and her use of symbolism and metaphor