It took me quite some time to read Can You See Anything Now? by Katherine James (Paraclete Press, 2017).
That might seem like a strange way to start a book review, but hear me out. It’s 2018, and while calling 2018 one of the worst years in human history would be inaccurate and short-sighted, it’s fair to say it’s been a stressful time, a year of daily assaults on peace and justice, a year to twist the brain of any reasonable, logical person inside out.
(Actually, they’re currently saying 536 CE was the worst year in human history, so let’s all take a moment to be thankful we missed that one.)
I have not reached for heavy books. There have been too many hard things in the world to make me seek them in books. I cannot count the number of books I have abandoned this year, with a “Nope. Not today.”
Can You See Anything Now? is a heavy book. Any review must be honest about that. It’s a book in which characters struggle with suicide, self-harm, and addiction, and their milder cousins despair, poor body image, and general malaise and loss of direction.
If we’re honest, we’ve all struggled with at least one of these things at some point, or we know someone who has.
Pixie, a college student addicted to cutting, accompanies her roommate Noel home over Thanksgiving break to a small New England town—where it seems no one believes they matter to the world—and falls into a freezing river, which leaves her in a coma while the other characters play out their lives around her.
Can You See Anything Now? won the 2018 Christianity Today Fiction Book Award, and I asked myself why.
Here’s the answer I came up with: it’s different. Very different, in fact, from what I think most people think of when they think of stereotypical “Christian fiction.”
For me, too often Christian fiction has a bit of an unreal quality. The characters are too good or too goody two-shoes, too devoted, too certain. They don’t ever say anything stronger than golly gosh or drink anything stronger than coffee. Serious struggles are too handily resolved with a prayer and a pie. None of this has been my experience in the church or in the real world.
If you are looking for a “typical” Christian read, this is probably not the book for you. If you’re looking for a light, breezy read, this is probably not the book for you. If you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts or self-harm, this might be a book to stay away from right now. I stayed away from it—all the while knowing I needed to write this review—for a while because wrestling with these things seemed like too much on top of the 2018 news cycle.
But if you find yourself in a place where you want or need to explore these issues—issues that do confront us every single day and must be dealt with—then try Can You See Anything Now?
Slow as I was to complete this review, I think it makes sense that I’m publishing it during the holiday season—and not just because Pixie’s accident happens over Thanksgiving. One of the things I love about this time of year is that, if we let it, it allows us to hold the light and the darkness in tension with one another. My avoidance of hard books in the face of hard news has come with a guilty conscience. I know I have a responsibility to look, to acknowledge the difficult things.
The title asks us, Can You See Anything Now? If we are to do that, we have to confront the darkness to find the light.* Fiction can be a great place to start that process.
*As O. Henry begs, “Forget the hashed metaphor.”
(I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)