Fiction Book Review: Demon: A Memoir (Author: Tosca Lee).
I’m going to reprint a series of three posts in their entirety (with slight edits for continuity/grammar/etc) from an older blog of mine which chronicle my initial experiences with an excellent novel by Tosca Lee entitled Demon: A Memoir. I still highly recommend it and am eagerly looking forward to reading Tosca’s second title Havah.
Part One (6/15/07):
Today I received a small package in the mail. What was this? I hadn’t remembered ordering anything off Half.com recently. I busted it open. Ohh, it was Demon a memoir by Tosca Lee. I had seen the book in a Crosswalk review and decided that I would like to get my hands on it. Amazingly, Tosca happened upon my “wish list” and offered to send me a complimentary copy. So here it was. While I hadn’t asked, I was happy to see she had taken a moment to sign it. Since running several websites on the internet over the years I have accumulated quite the small stash of items from various authors, publishers, etc., but few that I have looked forward to so eagerly.
Tonight was a youth event, so I didn’t have much time but I sat down and began to read. I was happy to see it was published by NavPress, a Christian publisher I trust. The first chapter read smoothly enough, but started more slowly than most. Many novels these days begin with a cliff hanger seeking to immediately draw their readers in. Tosca avoids this traditional formula – perhaps to her monetary detriment, but not to the detriment of her storytelling. Rather she slowly picks up pace – revealing layers of mystery and pain.
The story of Demon: A Memoir is a twin tale. First of Clay, a man who has lost everything when his wife Aubrey divorces him, and of the demon that desires to have his story told by Clay to the world. Such a premise is fascinating. Humans are always drawn to the unknown – that is why genres such as science fiction and fantasy attract us and why we are so driven to scientific discovery.
Thus far Tosca has managed to powerfully portray the surroundings, individuals, and storyline. The story reads with great detail but not so much (that like Dostoevsky) it becomes overwhelming and brings the storyline to a painful halt (though I still like Dostoevsky). I have begun to feel the pain that Clay is experiencing over his wife’s betrayal. The anguish is almost palpable. At the same time I am drawn to the story of the demon, Lucian. Tosca is building up camaraderie and sympathy with the demon. The demon seems honorable, humble, and earnest. What story does he have to tell? Is God really the bad guy in this cosmic war? Tosca gives no hints as to her plans, though the publisher and some of the recommendations give away where the story is headed.
The real question now is, which I cannot answer until I have pierced more deeply into the novel, will Tosca be able to offer insight into the demonic nature? Will she be able to maintain the tension of the storyline? Or will Tosca’s novel become just another plodding example of Christian apologetics roughly pressed into the mold of entertainment? If so, I am sure she will find her place on my list (not a good place) amongst Unidentified, The Moment After 2: The Awakening, and Left Behind. But here’s hoping…
Part Two (6/22/07):
I am now on page 146 of 322, this compared to perhaps page 60 the last time I wrote. I find the novel fascinating and am continually picking it up throughout the day – whenever I am at home. I am attempting to pace myself, to force myself to enjoy it like a sweet chocolate rather than gulping it all down in one large bite and feeling as if I had just gorged myself – missing out on the flavor and depth.
I must say, I have been extremely impressed with the book thus far. It is not a cliff-hanger. Each chapter doesn’t end forcing you to read the next (as say, Frank Peretti, Ted Dekker, Dan Brown, etc.) – but there is this overall pushing forward which keeps you reading. There is this continuous thread slowly being unraveled as we learn about Clay and his demonic friend, Lucian. Tosca slowly, tantalizingly reveals to us the truth – and it is both delightful and painful. Tonight I seriously contemplated jumping to the end of the novel, to find out what secrets she has hidden – but I doubt that the novel will end with a summary conclusion, rather it is spread throughout – each chapter revealing more secrets.
Besides writing a compelling novel she has written a novel well-founded. It is based upon firm biblical interpretations, though not necessarily always ones I would agree with. While binding herself to the text of Scripture thus far she has also loosed herself from it. She walks a balanced road – painting broad strokes around the Scripture’s fundamental story while not undermining the essential details.
Finally, I would note that her writing skill is immaculate. I do not know whether she sat with a dictionary as she typed up each page but the variety and depth of her vocabulary is astonishing. Each page flows with details and grandeur – yet not so much so as to become academic and dry.
So, halfway through the novel how do I feel about it? I feel that it is amazing. No, its not your average thriller and it doesn’t force you to stay up nights – but it does draw you back daily and leaves you with a deep satisfaction upon the completion of every chapter.
Part Three (6/27/07):
Tonight I read perhaps a dozen chapters. I had been trying to keep myself to only one to three chapters a day – preferably one at a time, but tonight I had to finish it. Not only because I desired to know how the story ended, but also because I was eager to write this review and begin lending out my book to anyone who would read it. I was not disappointed and I have given Tosca Lee’s rating a near-perfect review (4.99/5.00). Among literary writers I would compare her most closely to C.S. Lewis, especially in his The Great Divorce (I read The Screwtape Letters as a pre-teen and have not had the opportunity to re-read them, at the time they seemed dry and boring, so I will not compare Demon to it). She ranks with certainty alongside of some of our most accomplished and popular Christian writers – e.g. Frank Peretti, Ted Dekker, Randy Alcorn.
- Story: So many Christian products are repackaged secular products (this is especially true in the music and film industries). Lee separates herself as an original and innovative writer who provides a gripping story. She also manages to avoid the pitfall of Christian art. Creating a work which forgets that it is art by becoming so enamored with powerfully portraying the gospel, to the abandonment of its method. Lee skillfully balances these two – ensuring that truth is clearly demonstrated while at the same time raising the bar for Christian fiction artistically. Her story is fascinating and engrossing.
- Grammar, Structure: In both its vocabulary and style Demon manages to be a piece of art. Where many Christian volumes fall into redundancy and formulaic expressions she manages to skillfully weave a masterpiece.
- Theology: One could read her volume not only as fiction but also as commentary. The depth of expression and insight is breathtaking. Yet at the end she humbly writes in an “Author’s Note”, “…despite my research, I have never come to the point that I feel I completely understand the implications of God’s relationship with spiritual beings or the nuances of passages like Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14. I chose the interpretations I did for the sense they make to me and also for their storytelling merit. I encourage you to pass my approach through the sieve of your own discernment and to use it as a springboard for your own investigation.” (pg. 320)
- Un-Answered Questions: Tosca does not attempt to answer every question raised and while oftentimes suggesting what she feels is the answer, allows the reader to continue to wrestle with the unanswerable questions. This may be considered frustrating, but it is excellent in refusing to provide the pat answers we so often desire.
To those who are looking for a piece of summer fiction or the next must read I wholeheartedly endorse this volume as eminently readable and enjoyable.