Monday, January 02, 2012

The Return of the OPOV Book of the Month

Starting off the New Year right, I've chosen Secular City Limits by Matthew Barron as my new Book of the Month.

Polemic fiction has a long and honored -- and sometimes dishonored (Atlas Shrugged by wackjob Ayn Rand comes to mind) -- history in the literary world. In the long run it's very hard to pull off with any finesse. And that is why I was pleasantly surprised with this book. The author has a definite point of view and he's not afraid of making it known, but not at the expense of story and character.

At some unstated time in the near future, the United States becomes a "Christian Nation", with none other than the old theocrat himself, Pat Robertson, at the helm as president. The main characters of the story, a single mother and her fatherless son, plus a couple of friends, undertake to escape from Indiana ("Praise Jesus") through Ohio ("Praise God") on their way to the promised land, a near-mythical place in the old Northeast called Secular City, where the theocrats have not taken over, religion is left up to the individual, and peace and democracy rule. That's the belief that Helena and her son clutch onto to get them across one-third of the country from their home in Indiana.

Their struggles along the way provide ample fodder for the church-state-separation polemicist in Barron, but the work is never didactic, never preachy, and the dialog never unbelievable. It's really difficult to write dialog with a political point of view that still sounds natural, that doesn't sound phony, but Barron pulls it off with ease.

We have a set of characters, briefly drawn yet fully realized, with whom we can identify and sympathize, and some bully-like antagonists that are easy to hate, but none of the characters come off as cardboard cutouts.

Highly recommended for fans of church-state separation and for fans of dystopian fiction.