Book Review: The Shack

by terry mathews - news-telegram arts editor

The Shack

By William P. Young
$14.99. 248 pp.
Windblown Media

July 18, 2008 - Life must be pretty sweet for William P. (Paul) Young right now.

He no longer has to work as a janitor or handyman. He's on his way to being a millionaire.

Young's first book, originally written as a Christmas present for his six children in 2005, debuted in the top spot on the New York Times Trade Paperback Fiction best sellers list on June 8. His publisher says sales have passed the 1 million mark.

"The Shack," tells the story of Mackenzie Allen Phillips, Mack to his friends, a man who is overcome by The Great Sadness when his young daughter, Missy, vanishes during a camping trip. While her body is never discovered, the red sundress she was wearing when she disappeared is found, covered with blood, in an abandonded shack.

One winter day, Mack receives an unsigned note in his mailbox.

"Mackenzie: It's been a while. I've missed you. I'll be at the shack next weekend if you want to get together. ?- Papa"

"Papa" is the name Mack's wife, Nan, uses when she talks about God.

Mack is at once repulsed and curious about the invitation to return to the place that holds such painful memories.

He decides to make the trip - and his life is forever changed.

He anticipates meeting either Missy's killer or "Papa" himself.

After finding neither good nor evil, Mack tears up the note and shouts, "So where are you? I thought you wanted to meet me here. Well, here I am, God. And you? You're nowhere to be found! You've never been around when I've needed you - not when I was a little boy, not when I lost Missy. Not now! Some 'Papa' you are."

He storms down the path leading away from the shack, but is stopped by a dramatic change in his surroundings - think Dorothy waking up in the technicolor world of Oz.

The shack is transformed into a lovely home and Mack is met by three unusual characters.

Elouisa, "a large African-American woman," welcomes hiw with a warm hug.

Sarayu, a dimunitive Asian woman, floats in and asks to collect Mack's tears.

A Jewish man who says it's OK to call him by his common name - Jesus - invites him to his carpentry workshop to work on a very special project.

During the next 48 hours, Mack's wounds are healed and his spirit is renewed, thanks to the three gentle people who show him the meaning of God's undying love and infinite grace.

"The Shack" has won fans and attracted critics since its release in hardback at the end of last year.

Some ministers urge their congregations to read it. Others call it heresey. There are dozens of blogs on the Internet, both pro and con. Whatever your viewpoint, Paul Young has given us a story that goes a step beyond the traditional view of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

I found the book to be uplifting, full of hope and a welcome oasis in a world too occupied with separation and sadness.

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