It's been quite awhile since I've made time to enter the imaginary world of fiction. More than I'd admit to my students, whom I am constantly pestering to just crack a book, any book.
In the grand scheme of a friend's wife dying from cancer, a job market where too many close friends and family can't get a nibble, and a group of Burmese refugees recounting true stories of their family members being killed as they fled--in this world where truth is harsh, where reality is much more mind-absorbing than the inoculated, pre-packaged version that appears on the five o'clock news, I simply haven't felt the freedom to let go and immerse my mind in fantasy.
When people's real hurts consume, how do you give your mind permission to turn that blind eye, to take a rest and dwell in a realm you know to be false?
I found my permission this week in an article "The Neuroscience of Your Brain on Fiction," which cites a 2006 study showing how the brain reacts to written narrative: "Brain scans are revealing what happens in our heads when we read a detailed description, an evocative metaphor or an emotional exchange between characters. Stories, this research is showing, stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life. "
For instance, reading an olfactory metaphor will stimulate the part of the brain dealing with smell while reading words describing motions result in activity "in the motor cortex."
Reading, though, goes beyond merely activating different parts of the brain (although I'm for anything to stave off plaque in my brain. Two other studies in '06 and '09 revealed that "individuals who frequently read fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and see the world from their perspective."
In other words, to develop better social interaction skills, read a good narrative. Fiction fit the bill.
So, I followed the good doctors' orders, took a dose of medicine, and consumed Frank Peretti's first novel in seven years entitled Illusion.Consumed. No joke. One set of student papers still waits for my magical grading touch because I couldn't put the novel down.
This is a love story. Sure, it's a page-turner adventure novel, delving into the fantastic art of stage magic and science fiction with concepts like multiple timelines and alternate realities. But at its core, this is a love story.
On the surface, it is a story of the two main characters--Dane and Mandy--and their quest to find each other again when she dies but mysteriously reappears as a 19-year-old version of herself.
But deeper still is a nod to the mystery of love in marriage, which is merely an image of the ultimate love Christ showed for mankind with the church as His bride. It is a story depicting, as Peretti says, "our savior wooing us to Himself and that relentless, unutterable longing that makes us reach across our years and through our limitations to find Him."
This gospel where we are lost in this world and all its seductive glimmer until we are reunited with Christ is the novel at its core.
While I found it hard at times to keep up with the running list of bad guys, I was kept guessing till the end. My chief criticism (since I feel compelled to give one) is the same I experience with most Christian fiction--the interjection of God seems forced, like the author went back in and added the information versus making Christianity an integral part of the characters' lives.
The main characters' popcorn prayers out of the blue, token mention of blind reliance upon God when the going got rough, and mention of the local church only three times when it suited the plot (which spanned the course of a calendar year) versus making the characters have an actual relationship with the body--these seemed to depict God as more of a literary attachment than a lifestyle.
With that said, Peretti gives another page-turner for both adults and teens while sustaining the underlying metaphor for the lost sinner's relationship with Christ.
See the novel's trailer: