Without giving too much away, let me share my thoughts about Riven, a novel by Jerry B. Jenkins.
Earlier this year I attended a pastor’s conference at Tennessee Temple University. As a special gift, all pastors in attendance were given a free, hard-cover copy of Riven. Evidently, someone at the seminary pulled a few strings.
I don’t read too many fiction novels. Most of my time is tied up in other types of reading material, for the time being. But every once in a while one has to take a vacation from non-fiction and feed the imagination. In an essay entitled “Christian Apologetics” C. S. Lewis wrote, “Reality even seen through the eyes of many is not enough. I will see what others have invented…” Fiction feeds the imagination as does buying new colors for your Crayon box. Sometimes it helps to draw with something other than “black and white.”
The main characters in this book are a pastor and his wife, Thomas and Grace Carey; their spiritually estranged daughter, Ravinia; and last but not least, a trailer park hooligan with potential, Brady Wayne Darby.
There were other characters that came and went in this novel, but the ones mentioned above figure most into the plot of the story. Each are fleshed out in the first 3-400 pages, leaving the last hundred-plus pages to bring all the background together in a fitting conclusion.
Jenkins does a good job in making the reader feel sorry for everyone in the story, including the bad guys. This is not unjustified, however. The effects of sin, whether committed by self or by others, is a sad thing to witness. Brady Darby is the type of guy that takes a good opportunity and destroys it, while Rev. Carey is just a guy that continually suffers for the “calling.” Ravinia is someone who suffers from her own choices, but also lives in bitterness because of what “church people” have done to her mom and dad. You just can’t help wanting everything to turn out right.
Now, I am not a professional writer, by any stretch of the….wait, what am I saying?!! OK, so I do write a little, but I am not on the same level as Jerry Jenkins – you’re free to disagree, however. That being said, I feel the story could have been a little more condensed, at least concerning the Brady Darby character. Because of the time span covered in the book (20+ years), and even though we get the sense of his heart and true intentions, the character development seems lacking. Maybe it’s because of the so many other characters in story that draw one’s attention. Essentially, the story’s breadth, covered in such a few pages (relative to the time line), had a watering-down affect.
The other main character, Rev. Thomas Carey, was more often than not portrayed as a melancholy soul. He was a preacher/teacher/pastor that was never able, until the end, to see any real fruit from his labor. He was frustrated and bitter at times, yet he never gave up on God; even though his faith was strained. However, what I felt missing from his character was intensity. Maybe real life is a slow, down-hill coast to the pharmacy for refills of Prozac; but, this character had so much more to offer. The depth of his struggles and the heights of his victories were never really felt, at least not until the end – and even that was limited.
I think that one of the things that limited the ability to contrast the characters of Darby and Carey was the choice by Jenkins to not use profanity in the text. Granted, Riven is not supposed to be a titillating romp through the bowels of hell; but, in a world where vulgarity is commonplace, especially for those of us who have ministered in prison settings, this fictional work seemed too fictitious. Honestly, it felt like Jenkins used too much Clorox, thereby leaving the story with only a cognizant sense of contrast between good and evil; nothing guttural.
The story of Riven is that of two opposite characters who live their lives seperately, only to be bound together in the end by a common love for Christ. This love for Jesus leads one of the characters to do something completely unthinkable and unprecedented. Any more than that, which I know is not a lot, could ruin the ending for you. And that’s the key to this whole book – the ending. You have to read the whole story to appreciate the end, and end which should bring emotions to the surface of any true Christian.
Buy the book, even though I didn’t have to, and read it. If you don’t get anything else out of Riven, you should gain a new appreciation for the mercy and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ – His side was “riven” for us.