Authors: Bodie and Brock Thoene
Title: Beyond the Farthest Star
With names like “Bodie” and “Brock” on the cover, it was initially hard to tell if they were this book’s authors or protagonists.
Turns out, they’re the authors, the best-selling team of Bodie and Brock Thoene—pronounced “TAY-nee”—creators of an award-winning historical fiction library renowned for its accuracy.
Their latest novel, Beyond the Farthest Star, is not historical, even though it is fiction. Fiction based on a screenplay by Andrew Librizzi involving a troubled preacher’s kid and her family’s dark secret.
Anne Wells could be any modern-day Goth teenager. Except her father, Adam, whom she irreverently calls by his first name, has just moved the family to rural northeast Texas to try and salvage his deteriorating pastoral career. Anne’s mother unsuccessfully runs interference between father and daughter, even as she struggles with her own private demons. Professional Christianity, after all, supposedly can’t abide the truth from which the Wells have been running for years.
Indeed, it’s dysfunction with a capital “D” as any hopes of a successful pastorate begin to unravel soon after the family hits tiny Leonard, Texas, and its faded country church. Despite the best efforts of a friendly local boy who takes a shine to Anne, she refuses to cut anybody any slack, ultimately forcing a show-down between the father she thinks doesn’t love her, and the father she thinks does.
Oops! Did I give away too much there? It’s hard to tell, because unfortunately, this plot meanders listlessly like a dry Texas streambed. Numerous flashbacks to the family’s earlier pastorates toy with the plot more than they contribute background color. Indeed, dust tends to settle in many corners of this book the longer it’s read.
Then there’s the Wells family’s big secret. Color me a jaded post-modern American, but it isn’t as horrific as the Thoenes make it out to be. Marginally scandalous, perhaps; but career-ending for a preacher? Don’t many church folk have far more lurid skeletons in their dusty closets? In most healthy churches, I daresay the Wells’ big secret would have been greeted more with empathy than derision.
Meanwhile, readers have to overlook the implausibility of a local politician, running for re-election, torching a nativity set up on the town square to get votes—a farcical notion, especially in Bible-belt Texas. We also meet several timeworn caricatures of a stereotypical Southern town, like the local drunk, the fat sheriff, and the dumb blonde bombshell.
Then there’s the flashy visitor driving a Porsche, a seedy motel outside of town, and—get this!—a church that still uses hymnals on Sunday mornings!
Now, I’ve got nothing against hymnals—I own two of them myself—and it’s nice to see the Thoenes holding them in such high regard. In their story, however, a hymnal—not the Bible—becomes the crucial book around which key sections of narrative revolve.If the Thoenes wanted to make a point about salvation, wouldn’t they want to use God’s holy Word, instead of a songbook?
Further theological indignities occur as heaven’s majesty and glory are barely ascribed to the omnipotence of our Creator. Instead, God is poetically referenced in astrological terms, hence the title of the book. Not that metaphors can’t suffice, but by this time, it’s too little too late for aspirations towards literary gravitas.
I’d like to give the Thoenes the benefit of the doubt and dump these deficiencies onto the screenplay from which this book is adapted. A screenplay for the movie version of this story due out this spring.
As it is, let’s just say only loyal Bodie and Brock fans will be debating whether the book is better than the premiere.
Authors: Bodie and Brock Thoene