Christian Book Reviews, Author Interviews, Excerpts

Midnight Clear's Simple Story Disappoints

  • 2007 6 Nov
<i>Midnight Clear</i>'s Simple Story Disappoints

Authors:  Jerry B. Jenkins & Dallas Jenkins
Title:  Midnight Clear
Publisher:  Tyndale House

When I first picked up Midnight Clear and began to read, I was sure that it had been written for a teenage audience.  At less than 70 pages, with an oversized font and character names like “Lefty” and “Mary,” it sure seemed like a young adult (“YA”) novel.  I decided to call the book’s publicist.  To my surprise, she said that while Midnight Clear is appropriate for teens, it was definitely intended for the adult market.  This is disappointing, to say the least. 

Of course, I doubt that Jerry and Dallas Jenkins were trying to write a literary classic.  They were also clearly putting the ‘message’ above the ‘medium,’ as most Christian authors do.  However, I can’t help but wish that they had found a way to carry out their mission without resorting to such substandard writing.

Eva, an elderly shut-in, “has no reason to live,” which is why she’s going to commit suicide—the same night that Lefty is going to kill himself, after getting fired and running out of money.  Kirk, another loner who owns a gas station, doesn’t want to die, but isn’t particularly happy either.  Mary is just trying to get by as a single mother after the accident that left her husband with a traumatic brain injury (described as “brain damaged”).  Mitch doesn’t want to spend the evening caroling with the youth group he’s responsible for—nor does he care to visit Rick, Mary’s husband, even though Rick was his best friend, before the accident.

The paths of these five characters converge on Christmas Eve with some not-so-surprising consequences.  The message is one of hope.  It shows us that good things, however small, can happen unexpectedly.  It also encourages us that life, no matter hard, is always worth living.

It’s a simple story, with simple characters—and that’s not always a bad thing.  The gospel, after all, is hardly complicated, and was written in very straightforward language.  Unfortunately, without the God-breathed inspiration of the Holy Spirit, however, writing like this becomes bland and clichéd—especially in the form of fiction.

The basic rule of good writing is to “Show, don’t tell.”  Here, most everything is “told”—usually from a character’s thoughts, where we spend most of the novel.  Instead of being shown a frown that breaks into a grin, for example, we’re told that “Margaret looked relieved.”  Instead of having Mary be impatient or change the subject, we’re told that “her look suggested that nothing needed to be discussed.”  We’re even told that “Mary had developed the habit of keeping her hands in her pockets or tucked under opposite arms.”

There are other literary flaws—like the lack of character development and a slow-moving plot with a contrived yet anti-climatic ending—but the constant eschewing of narrative description for fact-telling is by far the biggest.  Sometimes—and for some people—books like this work.  But those who expect prose above the fifth-grade level from their fiction, as well as a little depth, are bound to be disappointed with this one.