Overall, I'm not having the best of luck with books this year, especially not with traditionally published books. I'm not sure, exactly, what that says, but there it is. The last several have been less than what I wanted, and this one, The Shack is no different. It's somewhere down around the level of Snow Crash, but not quite for the same reasons.
As with Snow Crash, my negative opinion began before I even started reading the actual book. In case you don't know, The Shack is being called the new Pilgrim's Progress, so my expectation was that the book is some kind of allegory. And it is, except that the author doesn't want us to think that it is. So he lies to us. Yeah, in the foreword... So you do all know what a foreword is, right? It's a piece of non-fiction about the book written by someone other than the author. Basically, someone else writes the foreword for your book which should then be about the book or you or you writing the book or whatever. But Young uses a character from the book, except you don't know it's a character from the book since you haven't read it yet, to write a "foreword" about the book in which the (fictional) character claims that the book is a true story.
So here I am with this book in my hand not really knowing what to think. Because the author lied. Yeah, it's a lie, because that bit at the front of his story is not a foreword at all. At best, it should have been the prologue. That would have worked, because that puts it into the context of "story," not the context of "fact," so I almost right away have to go look up to see whether the books is supposed to be true or based on real events or whatever, and I find out that it's not, so I started out pissed that the author felt like he needed to give his story more weight by lying to me about it.
And I would have put it down right then except that my neighbor loaned me the book because it's one of his favorite books ever, so I felt kind of obligated to read it. Or, at least, give it more of a chance.
Now, this has nothing to do with reading the book, but I always carry a book around with me, and The Shack has been the book I carry around with me lately, because it's a paperback, and that's what I carry with me. So I always carry a book around with me, but it's a rare thing that anyone ever says anything to me about the books I'm reading. Not so with The Shack. I had many people come up to me and ask me about this book, ask me how I'm liking it, and, as soon as my face twisted into my "not much" look, before I actually said anything in some cases, I got "oh, I hated it, too." From every single person that came up to me. They were all women, and they all had the same reason for not liking it, which has nothing to do with my reasons, but, still, it was a weird thing to have so many people coming up to me telling me how much they also didn't like the book.
The next thing is that the writing is just bad. Amateurish. The first third of the book is all "tell" and no "show," and I found it tedious and without any real tension despite the fact that the set up for the book is that Mack loses his daughter. We're never brought into the story, so it's really difficult to care about any of the characters. And, oh! my! gosh! I got so tired of the words "then," "now," and "again." People did things again and again and again. "Again he turned." "Again he turned." I'm surprised all the characters weren't puking from dizziness.
So... once we get through all the "telling" to what the book is really about, we spend the virtually the rest of the book involved in a philosophical conversation with "god." I'm sorry, but, really, if you want to have a philosophical conversation, write a book of philosophy; don't write a story to act as a thin veil to cover that philosophy. And don't lie about it on top of all of that to try and get me to believe that what you believe is actually the truth. Because, and I have to say it, this guy's theology is pretty shaky in spots and just wrong in others. Which isn't to say that I don't think he gets some of it correct, but what we really have is the author's personal philosophy of God that he's trying to pass off to us as a true story, and it offended me more than a little.
Not to mention that his picture of God is most often just silly and, frequently, offensive. At least to me. But that may be that I grew up in the South. His presentation of God the Father is that of a large, Aunt Jemima-style black woman. Now, I appreciate his attempt to go beyond a picture of God as an old, white guy. And I'm not offended by his presentation of God as a woman, because I do actually agree that God is above male and femaleness and that God could choose to present "himself" in whatever form "he" might want to. What I do find offensive is the stereotypicalness of Young's presentation of God as the large, black woman, "Oh chile, let's get you some food!" Not that that is an exact quote from the book, but that's how he portrays god, and I don't think God would ever be so callous as to incarnate himself as such a racial stereotype. At least, not the God I believe in. Yes, this really bothered me.
At any rate, I waded through all of the philosophical conversation (just like I waded through it all in Snow Crash), and I found it tedious as well, but what I really didn't like was that Young would frequently have Mack ask some question (a logical, common question that we might all ask) and then have God respond with "we'll talk about that later" and never go back to it. Why bring it up if you're not going to address it? Seriously. That's just dumb.
When we finally get to the end of the book, and, yes, this is a spoiler, he completely destroys everything he's done (which, granted, wasn't much in my estimation) by having Mack be involved in a life-threatening car crash. You know, to cast doubt over the weekend the character just spent with God. Was it real or was it an hallucination? What the heck? Really? That's where you want to put it. That's your out for your bad theology? Maybe Mack didn't quite remember everything correctly, so you can't be held accountable for anything that isn't correct? Well, if you'd just owned up to the fact that you made it all up to begin with, Mr. Young, that wouldn't be necessary at all, would it?
So, yeah... I couldn't recommend this book to anyone. I understand why my neighbor liked it, and I suppose it could be a good book for people caught up in religious dogma to read, because it could certainly present God to them in a way they hadn't thought about before, but, really, those people should just read C. S. Lewis and apply their brains to what he says about stuff before getting caught up in some dude's ideas that are no better formed than "ooh! what if language was a virus?!"