NOTE: I received a copy of this book from Tyndale House in order to provide a review.
by Ed Underwood
Pastor Ed Underwood frames a sermon series on finding God’s will into a narrative in The Trail, a novel published in mid-July from Tyndale. The story focuses on a wife, husband, and their weekend mentor as the three characters reflect on their needs to trust in the Lord for guidance and wisdom while they also hike through the wilderness in upstate California. Revelations and heartbreak lead to repentance as the trio seeks to find God amidst the dangers of not only the wild but also human nature.
I will admit at the outset that I felt immediate kinship to the The Trail as soon as I read the summary. I realized quickly that I was getting a creatively packaged sermon more than a novel focused on narrative, and knowing this covered over a few storytelling shortfalls. Given that my second novel, To Retreat From Romance (coming 2015, Lord-willing), is a somewhat similar work to The Trail, I gave it some grace; and in the end found myself enjoying it.
However, the book is not without its issues. For one, the characters do not seem entirely realized in that they speak very little of anything other than their spirituality. Given the amount of time we are told that they spend together, one would think that they would’ve had more conversations about a variety of topics, such as the every day things or ancillary interests that inform their current, respective plights. Additionally, the dialogue seems to be a means of conveying bullet points more than portraying organic conversation. This dynamic creates odd rhythms initially, but I think that some readers will have no problem adjusting to it.
But given that so much of the book is characters talking, the shortcomings in the dialogue make The Trail feel less organic than one might expect. While the story itself has a sort of “indie film” sensibility, the end result feels very telegraphed.
In its favor, The Trail is a fast read, albeit a longer one then may have been necessary. Because the book’s intentions are quite evident and obvious from the outset, one is forced to accept its conceit (sermon framed as story) or simply dismiss it outright. When judged on its own terms, The Trail works well in what intends to accomplish. As I said, this is a methodology that I myself employed initially for my second novel, so I find the goal to be admirable to some degree and believe it can be done well.
This is the type of book that will appeal to the same evangelical audience that enjoys films such as Fireproof or Facing the Giants–artistic endeavors that may fall short in style and craft but hit viewers within the intended demographic at the core of their souls by touching on the deep matters of their hearts. A market for The Trail exists, and a subset of readers will find it to be exactly what they want (see the other reviews on Amazon). I think Ed is writing to that particular group and has done a fine job doing so, even if it is not entirely successful from a narrative perspective.
Overall I liked The Trail, and I would probably recommend it to several, specific individuals that I think would value its intentions and execution; but I also know that some readers will not get past the pitfalls resulting from the novel’s goals.
But that’s just my opinion. Want to give The Trail a look for yourself; click on the link below: