THE SHACK – review

Published February 6, 2009

The publishing world is currently in a massive state of flux. There is no lack of interesting stories to publish, but in our current economic times, the day of the huge publishing deal may be going the way of the dodo — especially with the advent of electronic media. If, in the face of this, there is any example of a book being “the little engine that could,” it has got to be William P. Young’s religious allegory, The Shack.
The Shack - front cover
Initially rejected by scores of publishing houses (both religious and secular), the author and two of his associates, created Windblown Media, published the novel themselves, and in no time at all, word of mouth turned this little book into a publishing sensation. According to Wikipedia: as of January uary 2009, ‘The Shack’ has over 5 million copies in print, and has been at number 1 on the New York Times best seller list for 35 weeks. All this in under two years.

After going through personal crisis that nearly derailed his marriage, the author wrote the short novel for his six children, with no intention of publishing. Yet at the behest of friends, he was urged to make this available to the general public.

The book’s title, so says the author, is a metaphor for “the house you build out of your own pain … the places you get stuck, you get hurt, you get damaged.”
The Shack - back cover
Mackenzie “Mack” Phillips is a husband and father of five. While camping with three of this kids, his youngest daughter Missy is abducted and murdered. Though her body is not found, the police deduce that Missy was taken to an abandoned shack nearby. In the wake of this tragedy, Mack slips into what he calls “The Great Sadness.”

Months later, Mack receives a note in the mail that simply says:

Mackenzie,

It’s been awhile. I miss you.

I’ll be at the shack next weekend if you want to get together.

— Papa

Mack initially thinks this is someone’s sick joke. His relationship with his own (abusive) father is nonexistent. And the only other reference he has for “Papa,” is his wife’s nickname for God … รก la Abba, or Daddy. After being relentlessly haunted by this message, Mack eventually decides to return to the dilapidated shanty, the place of his worst nightmare, and see for himself if it is indeed God that is trying to get his attention. If it is, Mack is ready to let the Big Guy have it for His seeming indifference to his daughter’s murder.

What he finds there is …

You know, I don’t really know how to review this book without spoilers, suffice it to say that … what Mack finds at The Shack is one of the most remarkable ruminations on God and His desire for relationship with us that I have ever read. This story asks some very hard questions, and the answers it provides are about as far out of the traditional box as they could be, while still remaining “theologically sound.”

There are a few individuals of Judeo/Christian faith who have taken great exception to this book. Especially the manner of physical form in which God chooses to appear to Mack. But as the book so firmly states, God is neither male nor female. Yes, we refer to Him as Father, but that does not mean He has a long Gandalf-like beard and junk between His legs, hence … God appears to Mack in a manner that does NOT reinforce religious stereotypes. He is God, He can appear in whatever form He chooses — so what’s the controversy?

Much like my own Churchianity posts, this book attempts to reach people who would never step into a church, or worse, have been burned by the church and their all-too-often Pharisaical ways. And yet somehow, this author manages to call the church out on some its more legalistic traditions, while still very much embracing the LOVING nature of God … a balancing act that I still obviously struggle with. (I am better at it in my own fiction, than I am in some of these more acidic posts.)

I would love to dive more deeply into a critical review of this remarkable story, but I don’t see how I can without major spoilers. I will say … if you have been hurt, damaged, rejected, wounded, left bitter and bleeding from shattered family relations, and have either a severely broken relationship with God or a non-existent one, this book is for YOU.

More info on the book can be found at the official site. Check out Amazon’s 2500 reviews for a different take (watch for spoilers).

Controversial and compelling, thought-provoking and paradigm-changing, The Shack is a place to which I will return.

I hope you visit it as well.

BOOK GRADE: A-