Oh, Redeeming Love. I wanted to love this novel, I really did. Let’s get a few things straight: I support the messages (God will continue pursuing his sinful children due to his immeasurable love; God sanctifies marriages; husbands and wives should commit to each other/model the God-church relationship; even in the most difficult and tragic of circumstances, God’s love prevails, etc). I admire how the novel espouses these principals and features one very Christ-like character (more on this later). I find the setting featured, San Francisco in the 1850s, fascinating and a real glimpse at a challenging, depraved, and thrilling time in our nation’s history. I appreciate how the book has won millions and millions of fans and has very likely spread the Word in a real, authentic way. I also know that if I have anything less than a glowing review prepared, I may be inviting some backlash.
However, can’t sugar-coat it. The characterizations of Michael and Angel really ruin the novel for me. Both of these main characters are written so simply, so obviously, and so one-dimensionally that they lack any nuance whatsoever. Michael is the dedicated, devoted lover/husband who spends the novel whole-heartedly and passionately pursuing his bride while always hearing clearly and acting definitively on God’s will. Angel is the beautiful, tragic heroine, a child slave sold into prostitution and now a deeply bitter, frightened, and scarred woman who feels she is in no way deserving of Michael (and God’s) love.
I guess Rivers is trying to write the “perfect man” in order to reflect the perfect love of God. But to me, Michael is nothing but a stereotype and ideal, and thereby distracts from the themes of the novel. He does question himself and occasionally wonder why he puts up with Angel’s resistance and abuse of his heart, but you get the feeling that these sections are thrown in upon insistence by an editor to add some realism – they aren’t felt with any significance, as you know Michael will be back to his persistent, glutton-for-punishment self at any moment.
Angel, on the other hand, is the polar opposite of Michael in every way: she is the stormy black to his gleaming white. Her constant distrust of him (the only man that has shown her decency, love, and security every step of the way) and her persistent rejections of him are exhausting, and I found myself groaning ‘not again!’ about every other page. Angel is meant to represent humanity: scarred and sinful, constantly rejecting the goodness and peace of Christ. In all actuality, she probably is a very authentic representation. Maybe Rivers meant to drive her readers to annoyance, anger, and frustration with Angel in order to draw this metaphor; I’m not sure. But the point is made again and again, and it eventually turns into a less than pleasant experience for the reader.
My experience reading Redeeming Love was so mixed. I think it’s a worthwhile read for the theme and message. I appreciate the analogy and understand the author’s intent. However, in my opinion the characters are overdrawn to the point of caricatures and the way the theme is relayed is heavy-handed. I know Rivers has a great niche with Christian readers. With more nuanced characters, more stylistic writing, and a gentler hand with theme, this retelling of Hosea could have been a fantastic, beautiful, and significant work, and Redeeming Love could have spread its message to a more mainstream, secular audience as well.Tags: Francine Rivers