I’m fairly certain that my book confuses people. What is this? I imagine them thinking as they pick it up, running their fingers over the cover. What is this strange book with a question mark in the title? They might assume that it’s faith fiction, then read a few pages and realize that it’s not—not in any conventional sense at least. It’s funny and irreverent, does that mean it’s a satire? Perhaps it’s women’s fiction, since it deals with relationships and family.
In the simplest terms, CAN I GET AN AMEN? is a story about love— the limitations we put on it, the mistakes we make despite it. The heroine, Ellen Carlisle, loses her job and her husband, and has to move back home with her evangelical Christian parents, though she doesn’t share their brand of faith. Oh, you might think, it’s another book about hokey, misguided religious-types who shove their faith down everyone’s throats. It’s not that either. Not in the end.
Let me first be candid and tell you that I, like Ellen, grew up in a very religious household. And I, like Ellen, do not currently practice any form of organized religion. However, this book was not written to deride or promote Christianity, but to present it, honestly and fairly, and in a way I haven’t often seen it done before.
Mainstream fiction tends to represent faith as a flaw or a weakness. In Christian fiction, it seems to always be the beacon by which the right and just path is lit. I don’t think that either characterization is necessarily accurate. Faith—how and if and why we have it—is an expression of our humanity. And it’s the humanity of Ellen and her family that I wanted to convey. Through the course of the narrative, they hurt each other and they make mistakes and they fall down and get back up, and ultimately, they love each other.
So what is this book? How do I categorize it? To be honest, I don’t really know. But the more I hear from readers, the less that concerns me. Enough of you have told me that you saw your mother or your sister or yourself in it. Enough of you have said that even though you grew up a Catholic or an Atheist or a Jew, you related to it. Enough of you have told me that you love it. And it’s in love that I have faith.
We’re giving away two copies of Sarah’s novel CAN I GET AN AMEN? (US and Canada residents only) Just leave a comment on this post and you’ll be entered to win.
Growing up, Ellen Carlisle was a Christian: She went to Jesus camp, downed stale Nilla Wafers at Sunday school, and never, ever played with Ouija boards. Now, years later, when infertility prevents her from giving her ambitious attorney husband a family, she finds herself on the brink of divorce, unemployed, and living with her right-wing, born-again Christian parents in her suburban New Jersey hometown. There the schools are private, the past is public, and blessings come in lump sums.