I don’t usually quote from the backs of books when reviewing them but in the case of When Crickets Cry by Charles Martin, this says it much more succinctly and much better than I could.
A man with a painful past. A child with a doubtful future. And a shared journey toward healing for both their hearts.
It begins on the shaded town square in a sleepy Southern town. A spirited seven-year-old has a brisk business at her lemonade stand. But the little girl’s pretty yellow dress can’t quite hide the ugly scar on her chest.
Her latest customer, a bearded stranger, drains his cup and heads to his car, his mind on a boat he’s restoring at a nearby lake. The stranger understands more about the scar than he wants to admit. And the beat-up bread truck careening around the corner with its radio blaring is about to change the trajectory of both their lives.
Before it’s over, they’ll both know there are painful reasons why crickets cry . . . and that miracles lurk around unexpected corners.
It’s obvious from the beginning that the man, Reese, is hiding somewhat from someone or something, and his background and reasons for doing so are skilfully unfolded through the course of the book. That he recognizes the scar on Annie’s chest and knows what to do at the accident indicates he has either been a patient with the same ailment she has, or he is in the medical field.
There is not much more I can say about the plot of the book without seriously spoiling the discovery for others, but the journey towards the different kinds of healing they each need is beautifully, touchingly, skilfully written.
There were a couple of things that keep me from giving it a whole-hearted endorsement, however. There is brief mention throughout of things like lovers skinny-dipping, a guy ogling a girl’s chest, the outline of a naked woman on a sign, etc. They are no more explicit than that, and I know those things occur in real life, but I didn’t really need them mentioned or need my thoughts pulled in those directions, although I did appreciate the reasons given to one character as to why he shouldn’t be looking at the wrong kind of magazines.
One real oddity to me in the book is a bar “disguised as a billboard for God” with verses on the cocktail napkins, mixed drinks named after the apostles, the Ten Commandments and Sermon on the Mount on chalkboards, gospel music in the jukebox (though the selections are listed as rock titles, so when someone thinks they are paying for and playing one song, the gospel version actually plays). Davis, the owner, cook, and bartender, has a degree in theology, though he doesn’t advertise that fact, and does sell alcohol, though he mixes it with a nonalcoholic version when he thinks it best. He’s motivated by the fact that the people who most need the Lord don’t come to church, so he goes to them, and “if it means titillating people’s sin senses and hoodwinking them on their beer, he’s comfortable before God and telling Him he did it that way.” There is a naked woman weather vane on top of the building and “adult” signs, though there is no nakedness or “adult” activity in the bar. “Bottom line, Davis is not interested in the people who aren’t attracted to the promise of big bosoms, cold beer, and the possibility of having both. And for that reason he’s targeting the folks who think they can’t live without them.”
This is all really disturbing to me. It’s good and admirable to want to reach those who wouldn’t normally come to church if invited and to go out of one’s way to do so, to go out to them, but to “titillate people’s sin senses” to do so goes a step beyond “being like the world to win the world,” which is not what we’re called to do.
One character experiences a “disconnect” between what he hears and what he came in for. “Well, no wonder,” I thought. I come from a non-Christian family, my father was an alcoholic and my sisters go to bars, and they would find this an incongruous as I do.
The character of Reese, who describes this place, doesn’t necessarily endorse it and doesn’t suggest “that the end justifies the means,” but he does point to Davis’s well-attended Bible study.
I’m not sure if the author is justifying this or just creating an eccentric character, but though his writing makes me want to read more of him, this whole scenario makes me wary of him. This isn’t really a major part of the book, taking up only a few paragraphs, and I am glad I read the rest of the story. I hope he doesn’t muddy his other stories with this kind of thing. I’d like to read more of his work, but if it is all like this I won’t be able to.
(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)