I will be honest. When I hear the term “Christian fiction”, I cringe. In my experience, most fiction selling in Christian bookstores amounts to little more than (as Great Scott so eloquently puts it) sanctified bodice rippers (whose protagonists--usually lonely women--find all their problems solved most satisfactorily by walking an inviational aisle and perhaps marrying the preacher) or eschatological thrillers with characters about as deep as an episode of Fear Factor. Blessedly, Christian fiction writer Steven W. Wise’s The Jordan Tracks fits neither of these categories.
Set in small town mid-Missouri in 1968, The Jordan Tracks chronicles the spiritual crisis of Ernie Bates and the friends and family closest to him when his son, an only child, falls victim to a sniper’s chance shot in Vietnam. Thankfully, Wise doesn’t use The Jordan Tracks to tell his readers that Christianity makes everything instantly spiffy, hunky-dory, and if a believing character tends to become a bit didactic once or twice in the attempt to reconcile the story’s unbelievers with the God in whom they doubt, it is at least done in lingo that wouldn't sound strange in the mouth of a rural Missourian. (I swear I know these people first-hand; they’re pure gold, through and through.) The Jordan Tracks is not a literary masterpiece in terms of academic crafting, perhaps; we are sometimes told more than we’re shown about the characters and their motivations. Nevertheless, Wise demonstrates especially keen eyes and ears for the subtleties of detail in which relationships are revealed and nurtured. From the social interactions of backyard barbeques (“pig pickin’s”) to the work line of a small town turkey processing plant to the county fairgrounds, Wise knows his people, their storytelling, their friendly baiting, their companionable or respectful silences, the extremes to which they may be driven in grief, and how slowly and carefully hope must be breathed into existence if it is ever to kindle into steady flame within a broken human spirit.