I first met Merrie Destefano at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference. She initiated a gathering of speculative fiction writers where she gave each person an opportunity to share the premise of their work in progress. I’ll never forget the reaction of the twenty-five or so writers present when Merrie related hers—the premise of the book that would become Afterlife: The Resurrection Chronicles.
In this story, science has discovered the way to bring people back from the dead, over and over, up to nine times. Resurrection has actually become big business, but some are not content. They thirst for immortality.
As it turned out, Merrie ended up finding a publishing home for her novel with the general-market house Eos, an imprint of HarperCollins. Is her novel a “general market” story? Or is it “Christian fiction”? After all, when I met Merrie she was pitching her book at a Christian writers’ conference to Christian editors and agents who primarily work with Christian publishers. In fact, she signed with a Christian agent shortly after we met, and he sent her novel out to the main Christian publishing houses. Eventually Merrie went a different direction, and her book sold quickly.
Was it not “Christian” enough for Christian publishers? I can’t answer that question because I’ve not talked with any of those Christian publishing professionals who passed on the project. My guess is, they weren’t convinced their target audience would buy the numbers of copies they needed to sell.
Afterlife is dystopian science fiction though Merrie’s publisher is marketing it as urban fantasy which seems to be a hotter commodity right now. Christian publishers, however, apparently believe neither genre attracts their target reader.
Why, I wonder. The writing is stellar, the story thought-provoking and all but devoid of the two things that some Christian readers seem to think sully a book—graphic sex scenes and cuss words.
Are there “faith elements” in Afterlife? If by this phrase, a person means characters, conversation, plot points that make the reader think about spiritual things, then the answer is a resounding, YES! If instead the question means, has the author laid out a spiritual lesson consistent with Biblical principles, then, No.
The thing is, Merrie doesn’t “lay out” her theme but weaves it into the fabric of the story as a skilled writer should. The reader, then, is left to connect the dots, to ponder the issues, to ask the questions, and to seek for the answers, if he so chooses.
Interestingly, I found far more Biblical inferences and intentional questions about spiritual things in Afterlife than in many of the novels considered “Christian fiction.” In fact, the opening epigraph set the tone:
“Remember, death is a choice.
And I know you’ve all heard the latest rumor,
that One-Timers don’t really exist.
They say that everbody’s a First-Timer
and that when death comes, we all choose life.
I’m here to say that’s just not true!”
-Reverend Josiah Byrd, leader of the first pro-death rally
A reverend, leading a “pro-death” rally? Why would he do this?
I opened the book randomly and came across this opening sentence to Chapter Fifty—an example of how Merrie has dyed the fabric of her story in the language of the spiritual:
Silent as an empty midnight mass, the silver-and-black chopper thumped to a velvet halt, descended like light from heaven, landed on the roof of the Carrington Hotel.
And here’s a more specific passage, not alluding to a Biblical passage or using spiritual imagery, but actually raising questions about God:
“This thing, this guilt”—I paused uncertain how to express what was in my heart, especially when I knew that a black monster was swimming through the room—”it isn’t between you and the dead guy. Not really.” I thought I heard the swish of a reptilian tail. “It’s between you and God. He’s the one that you need to talk to.”
“Do you think I haven’t tried?” There were tears on his face now, glimmering in the darkened room. His own personal river of pain. “I feel like he hung up the phone on me. Like he isn’t taking my calls anymore.”
“Then let’s call Him together,” I ventured. I expected him to laugh and tell me to leave, to go back to my pretty little childhood while he drifted off into dark, unfamiliar streets. I expected black water to swell, to come to life, to swallow him whole right in front of me.
But that wasn’t what happened.
Instead Russ lowered his head and wept. Then he got off his chair and knelt on the floor. I suddenly forgot about the monsters and knelt beside him.
For the first and only time in our lives, my brother and I prayed together.
The scene continues and the story continues. This isn’t the climax or resolution but one of many inferences or suggestions or introductions to spiritual matters.
In reality, who can read a book about dying and coming back to life, and dying and coming back to life, without thinking about death and what happens for real?
Merrie’s debut novel, released in September, is one Christian readers will want to have on their shelves. It’s a great book to start a discussion with those who aren’t Christians. And it’s an excellent story by a talented writer, especially for those who enjoy dystopian science fiction or urban fantasy, whichever you choose to classify it.