Bits of the paranormal or supernatural show up in many LDS novels, but three recent books feature major characters as a ghost, an angel, and a translated being. This is a tricky subject to handle in a way that is acceptable to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because we believe in angels and such, but we don’t view them in the traditional sense. We also have a strong sense of personal agency and frown on supernatural beings solving our problems-especially when it comes to our fiction.
The first of these three novels is THE GREATEST DISCOVERY by Chris Sorensen (published by POND Publishing, 131 pages, $10.00). Told in first person the author uses his own name for his principal character who is a young man returning to the area where he grew up to attend graduate school. He’s reluctant to live in the area again, unenthused about attending school, and somewhat self-centered, cetainly self-absorbed. His pregnant wife is working to support them while he attends school. He tells us she’s a wonderful person and beautiful in exaggerated descriptions that tell us only who she is in relation to him, but the reader never really gets to know her. The characters are a little difficult to relate to because of Chris’s self-absorption. When his wife dies should be an emotional high point of the story, but because the reader never really knows her, the scene lacks emotional impact.
Chris spends a lot of time at the library on campus where he discovers an unused room. The only people who ever go there are Chris and an elderly black man, Lewis, who appears to be some sort of custodian for the building. Over several months Chris becomes overwhelmed with homework, settling into an internship, and writing papers while settling into a strange friendship with the old man. They discuss books, particularly the ones Lewis has relocated’ to shelves in the room from other parts of the library because they are his favorites, Chris complains a lot about how hard he has it and how much work he needs to do, and they play chess.
Chris glosses over his wife’s concerns about her pregnancy, her fatigue, meeting his family, and her work, while giving his career goals, education, and friendship with the old man most of his attention. Lewis is a philosopher who challenges Chris to think about what real happiness is and he is just learning to look beyond the obvious when disaster strikes. Chris’s world is turned upside down and when he goes looking for Lewis, he finds the man died a long time ago. Nonetheless, Lewis has left him a legacy, a knowledge that happiness is a choice, and that being able to choose is the greatest discovery.
The second novel is DEEP WATERS by Thomas Eno (published by Covenant Communications, Inc., 162 pages, $14.95). This is the third book in the series that began with My Name is John. John is the disciple whom Jesus gave a promise that he could tarry on earth until He comes again. John is a quiet, unassuming man who appears in modern day situations to lend aid and support. In this case the people of Hampton Corner are racing against the 1993 flood waters of the Mississippi River, and the Hampton River which feeds into the larger river, to save their lives, homes, businesses, and livestock. With quiet compassion he helps several citizens of the small town to gain a better understanding of themselves, what it means to forgive, and that sometimes God’s plans are not the same as man’s. The story is an exciting adventure, sprinkled with the kind of miracles that can easily be dismissed as lucky coincidences by skeptics and unbelievers or held close to the heart by those who feel a higher power watching over them. Eno’s characters are not left marveling over an angel or a ghost; they don’t even know John is anything more than a good, hard-working, caring man. They only know a stranger helped them and their live’s are better, perhaps because they’ve learned something about giving and loving.
EYES OF AN ANGEL could only be written by Dan Yates, the master of angel stories (Covenant Communications, Inc., 199 pages, $14.95).
The principal characters in this story are an angel, Allison Barker, who in mortal life was married to Ivan Barker. Now she’s on a special assignment to help him solve the mystery of their daughter, Rene’s kidnaping and murder which occurred twenty-five years ago. Even more important her assignment is to help Ivan forgive himself for the mistakes he made raising their daughter after Allison’s death.
Ivan Barker has had a long, successful career as an attorney, and though old enough to retire keeps on working. When Allison first appears he thinks he’s losing his mind, but gradually decides that having his wife as a figment of his imagination isn’t so bad. Long after his daughter’s death, he’d pulled a lot of strings to adopt a young girl who’s abusive parents had died in a murder/suicide. This daughter, Jamie, was raised much differently from his other daughter, Rene, who was so hurt by her father’s actions she ran away with a soldier who didn’t come back from Vietnam. She had a child, Lance, her father had never been allowed to see. Even after Rene’s death, Lance went to live with an uncle who made sure he never came in contact with his grandfather.
A secret benefactor provides the means for Lance to gain an education and even sets him up in a state-of-the-art forensic lab after his graduation. He even arranges for a guide to introduce Lance around when he arrives in town. That guide turns out to be private investigator Jamie Barker. Lance, heeding the wishes of his mysterious benefactor, sets out to solve his mother’s murder assisted by Jamie, who is attempting to solve the same mystery.
Yate’s story is both a light romance and a thrilling adventure with an angel or two thrown in to keep the reader guessing. It also has some serious things to say about forgiveness and interference in another person’s agency.
The paranormal elements in all three books are positive encounters, but there their similarities end. Chris Sorensen’s mysterious stranger changes his character’s life and basically remains mysterious with no explanation of why Chris was chosen or where the ghostly Lewis has gone. It’s the kind of feel good story where the reader is left to read between the lines, but is actually told little. Thomas Eno’s Deep Waters leaves the reader with a deep sense of the Savior’s love for everyday people and provides a sense of loving support from a Heavenly Father without any overt manifestation of his power. Yate’s angels live a continuation of life just across a thin veil. They obey rules better than mortals, but they demonstrate that the people and concerns that mattered to them in mortality continue to matter after they leave mortality.
Readers who are still nostalgic for Highway to Heaven or who seldom miss Touched by an Angel will enjoy The Greatest Discovery. Serious readers who have wondered about John or the Three Nephites will enjoy Eno’s imaginative Deep Waters for the simple reason both the actions of this John and the deep sense of love in the story ring true. Yate’s loyal fans who have been laughing and crying for years with his very human angels will love Eyes of an Angel. All three books are entertaining and manage not to cross that thin line between an interesting and positive interpretation of life after death and the offensive speculation or horror often associated with the paranormal. All three stay within the bounds of what members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints generally find acceptable in speculating about the relationship between the living and the dead.