In EYES TO SEE, Bret Lott, author of JEWEL (an Oprah Book Club pick), offers a pithy collection of 10 short stories that show God at work in the world.
A good story, Lott says in his introduction, will “delight and move and challenge and humble…. A good story can change the way we think, the way we live and love and make our way through this world.” Do these stories live up to this lofty expectation? Well, likely it will depend on the reader. Good short stories tend to act on readers like good novels --- we come to them with our own life stories, our prejudices, our tastes and our experiences.
But unlike many short story collections, although EYES TO SEE is an eclectic mix, there is nothing particularly jarring or out of synch. These stories hang together well as a whole piece, much as a warm and workmanlike quilt of harmonizing colors.
Some of Lott’s selections are ubiquitous to the Christian short story collection, such as Flannery O’Connor’s famous “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and Henry Van Dyke’s beloved “The Story of the Other Wise Many.” Other stories may be less familiar to the reader, such as “The Christmas Wife” by Helen Norris. I discovered some new writings from authors I was familiar with but hadn’t read extensively. An example: Although I have enjoyed G.K. Chesterton’s books, I had never dipped into the Father Brown mysteries; “The Blue Cross” was a delightful introduction.
One of the bonuses of the collection (which also serves to expand the page count) is a biography page that precedes the story and introduces the reader to the writer. Geographically, there are the expected Russian masters (Tolstoy, Dostoevsky), a few southerners (O’Connor, Dubus, Norris), the Brits (Chesterton, Trollope) and the random Japanese (Endo), Pennsylvanian/New Yorker (Van Dyke) and Illinois/North Dakotan (Woiwode). The time period spans about 150 years, from the mid-1800s to the previous decade.
Lott writes that he chose these stories for their ability to “seek to speak to and of the greatest story ever told: the love of God for us, a love so deep He gave His only begotten Son that we might have life everlasting.” If you are used to reading books with a direct moral lesson, be warned: you might be disappointed. These stories require you to dig a bit to find the faith themes (although some, such as “The Final Martyrs” and Van Dyke’s “The Story of the Other Wiseman,” are more explicit). I found this subtlety delightful --- and thought-provoking --- more than the “in your face” writing of more straightforwardly Christian fictional tales as we’ve known them in the past 30 years.
A good short story collection serves as a springboard for readers to find new writers they enjoy and then propel them to head off on rabbit trails, discovering more of the author’s other works. One of my favorites in the collection was “The Christmas Wife” by Helen Norris, a writer I was previously unfamiliar with. Lott tells us in her bio that she has written novels, other short stories and served as Poet Laureate for Alabama, as well as had two stories made into television films. I see many happy hours of reading --- and viewing --- ahead.
Despite the size of the jacketed hardcover (320 pages), the large type and sentence spacing make this a much larger book in appearance than in actual reading length. So if you are intimidated (rather than energized) by big hardcovers, don’t let the heft stop you. This is a good introduction to the short stories with subtle faith themes for Christian readers that will inspire you to search out more of the same.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on January 8, 2008