The Visitation, by Frank Peretti (W Publishing Group, Nashville, Tennessee, 2003)
I believe it was Samuel Goldwyn who said, "If you want to send a message, use Western Union." He had a point. Great writers manage to convey many messages through their works, but people who start writing with a message in mind tend to write mediocre novels.I find Frank Peretti's stories entertaining, and better than much so-called Christian fiction; certainly worlds better than the popular LaHaye/Jenkins Left Behind series. There's no doubt that his writing style and technique have improved considerably over the years, too. But Peretti always seems to have a particular axe to grind. One of his best books, Monster, still has specific points about evolution/creation and the perils of genetic engineering which he makes rather heavy-handedly. The Visitation suffers from the same problem, and more.
I believe it was C. S. Lewis who noted that most authors' evil characters seem real enough, but they cannot portray goodness well at all. (An excellent example would be the Lord of the Rings movies, which unlike the books apparently tried to convey goodness by making the characters look stoned.) He was writing about Scottish author George MacDonald, whom he said had the opposite defect: he made goodness believable and desirable, but his villains tended to be cardboard, stock characters.
Peretti has a hard time with both kinds of characters. In his more recent books his good characters have begun to take shape, however, which I see as a hopeful sign. But his evil characters are still entirely too weird, or at best one-dimensional. In this one, the Antichrist character, Brandon Nichols, was too much like the Antichrist character, Nicholas Carpathia, in the Left Behind books, which is a compliment to neither the character nor the author. (Neither author could avoid the "Nick" reference, it seems. But LaHaye/Jenkins were there first.)
Peretti's prejudices show through too much for me, mainly I suppose because they are not my prejudices. In the consortium of pastors in this book, the good guys are the Pentecostal and Baptist ones—the Episcopalian, Lutheran, Presbyterian, etc. are either bad or at best wishy-washy. The Methodist one comes out okay, but only after realizing she isn't really a Christian.... It's true he attacks some Pentecostal practices and beliefs, and one of the worst characters is a Pentecostal pastor, but once again I get the feeling he is pointed commentary. Mind you, I'm not saying there aren't Methodist, Episcopalian, Lutheran, and Presbyterian pastors who are just as bad as the ones he portrays, but you get the feeling Peretti is condemning whole denominations, not just particular characters.
The Visitation started out very well, with Peretti developing the main character well and with reasonable complexity. He begins by asking some critical questions that are usually ignored, such as Why doesn't Jesus seem to be in the direct healing business anymore? and How would the world respond if he were? and What does God's presence in the world, and in our lives, look like? and How do we deal with people who respond to our problems with, "You just need to trust God more"?
I was looking forward greatly to how Peretti would deal with these questions, but it seems he couldn't sustain the effort. Suddenly the protagonist's crisis of faith is resolved (for no apparent reason), prayer becomes a magic bullet, demons are revealed, and the whole story is wrapped up with a pat answer, stock formula solution.Disappointing—though still entertaining.