A few weeks ago Trevin Wax walked into my office and handed me an advanced copy of his first fiction book Clear Winter Nights. I have read Trevin’s blog for years. I’ve also read his previous non-fiction works Holy Subversion and Counterfeit Gospels. Trevin is a gifted writer and thoughtful theologian. As he walked out of my office that day I was excited for him, not only because he’s my friend, but also because of what this book means to him. Trevin has been calling for artistic portrayals of truth for a while now. In several of his blog posts he has expressed concern about conservative Christians picking apart works of art without offering something better. This concern seems to be one of the driving forces behind Clear Winter Nights. For someone who has done well in the non-fiction market, writing fiction is a risky move.
Offering a work of fiction to the public puts an author in new territory beyond a change of literary genre. In non-fiction a writer has the privilege of shoring up his or her arguments with evidence, his or her points with the thoughts of other thinkers. Fiction pushes an author into a much more vulnerable position. Trevin has not only personally crafted this entire story, but also intimately created each character, and shaped their thoughts and actions. A fiction novel is a work of art. And because it is a work of art the writer becomes susceptible to criticism on many levels. In my opinion this makes Clear Winter Nights Trevin’s most personal venture yet.
I am not a literary critic. Nor, do I read fiction on a level that allows me to be conversant with it as an art form in the strictest sense. I tend to read theological, sociological, and philosophical works. On my honeymoon I read C.S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man while enjoying the breathtaking beaches of the Riviera Maya. On our trip to finalize our adoption in Ethiopia I read Graeme Goldsworthy’s Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics while relaxing in the cool of the night. My library is made up of ninety five percent non-fiction. However, I would like to offer my thoughts on Clear Winter Nights, for whatever it’s worth.
First, I was delighted by Trevin’s ability to render the context of each scene in such a way that it added to the beauty of the narrative without slipping into the melodramatic. In each chapter Trevin was able to paint the surroundings in such a way that I was transported into the ethos of the moment without losing a sense of the narrative trajectory. The reader can not only visualize the setting, but also see the physical posture of each character at almost every turn in the movement of the story. In my opinion, this only strengthens to the emotive force of the story line. For someone like me, who dwells in abstract literature, this is meaningful because it adorns the truth and adds to the beauty of the narrative.
Second, Trevin was able to communicate thoughtful biblical truth using a storyline that was captivating, and did so with memorable characters. Clear Winter Nights includes both fiction elements and non-fiction elements, namely, sustained theological discussion and logical reasoning. However, the story does not get weighed down by the theological elements. Trevin transported theology through story exceptionally well. At the right moments and in the right way, the discussion would lift so that I, as the reader, would remain grounded in the narrative. The beauty of narrative is that truth delivered from specific characters adds contextual force, which leaves a more lasting mark on the reader.
Finally, this book will resonate with many readers because of the content of the discussion between the characters. Many readers will sympathize with, and find themselves reflected in the thoughts and actions of each character. One of the main characters of Clear Winter Nights is a young and intellectually ambitious Christian dealing with disillusionment and doubt. The story centers on this young Christian spending a weekend with an elderly retired pastor, who is not only wise but broken and full of grace. During the course of the weekend these two men discuss some of the most pressing subjects of life and faith, and it is clear that no subject is off limits. As I followed every interaction, every response, and every question in the conversation I was not only entertained but educated. In Clear Winter Nights you are taken on a journey through philosophical and thoughtful discussions on the biggest dilemmas of faith. The characters discuss the equality and inequality of world religions, the nature of Christian discipleship, and the reality of sin, pain, and suffering. Through engaging dialogue Trevin aptly explores the relevance of solid biblical truth in an unstable world.
A few years ago I was encouraged by one of my closest friends Zach Hawkins to take an occasional break from academic reading to enjoy fiction. I am glad I did. I am also thankful for Trevin’s new book. I pray that many more volumes will be published in this line of literature. If you are looking to read a short and reflective fiction work, I commend Clear Winter Nights to you. I read it in a few sittings. And each time, it was hard for me to put it down.