“Cross Roads" by Wm. Paul Young (FaithWords, $24.99)
Paul Young isn’t insulted at the suggestion that the lead character in “Cross Roads" has a dark soul.
To the contrary, the author of “The Shack" chuckles with delight.
“Thank you," he said. “That is a compliment. ... I’m a writer that likes to explore questions, and one of my questions is: ‘How does grace or transformation get into the heart of someone who is really lost? Who’s really isolated themselves from relationships?’"
Anthony Spencer’s desolation is crucial to Young’s latest exploration of man’s relationship with God. Tony’s not supposed to be likable. As the title suggests, Tony is a man at a crossroads. He has achieved many of the trappings of material success, including vast wealth and property, but his life is empty and he is alone.
Young said he purposely made Tony successful in societal terms. “I’m trying to drag some of that stuff down into the dirt with Tony because I don’t think success is those things," he said.
“The Shack" was self-published initially, and though more than 14 million copies have been sold, Young is not caught up in its success. “I love that it’s happened. I love being a part of it. I’m thrilled to participate; don’t exactly understand it."
“The Shack" explored the question of how can God allow awful things to happen to good people, and how can people forgive. “Cross Roads" considers how a man estranged from God reconnects.
“My premise is that there is a God who loves every human being, and with respect climbs into the middle of our stuff," he said. “The question is, ‘How does that happen?’ That’s what I’m trying to explore in ‘Cross Roads.’"
To accomplish this, Young cast Tony as a nearly empty and adrift vessel of humanity. Tony is such a creep that, after his marriage ends in divorce, he woos his ex-wife back because he was disappointed that things ended so genteelly. They remarry and he quickly files for divorce, and he’s pleased that this time around she is angry and scorned.
Tony reaches his crossroad when he suffers a cerebral hemorrhage. While lying comatose in the hospital, he encounters Jesus. Tony is left to examine the life he has led, as well as the consequences of his actions.
There are shades of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol" and C.S. Lewis’ “Great Divorce" in Tony’s journey through his life. Young said the idea of crossroads fascinates him because there are so many triggers that can prompt people to reflect.
Young, whose parents were evangelical missionaries, speaks easily about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. They are dear to him, and his affection and respect are sincere.
“My faith history and journey absolutely influence how I do what I do, and how I write what I write," he said. But while readers will find his books alongside Christian or inspirational books, Young doesn’t categorize his work.
“I really don’t want to be a ‘Christian’ writer," Young said. “I’m a creative writer who explores questions of faith."