How do you get from a sun-soaked South Carolina beach weekend to a missionary outpost in the wilds of Ecuador? The answer surprises Jay Jarvis again and again in this quirky male's-eye-view of the Christian singles scene.
Once a male friend said to me "I didn't know what I was here for until I had a child." One might debate his statement, but it does illuminate part of the challenge of being a modern man. In an era and society in which the role of men has changed drastically, young men like my friend are searching for meaning. Ray Blackston's protagonist, Jay Jarvis, is also searching for meaning in his life --- or, at least, a girlfriend. But when a move from Dallas to Greenville, South Carolina finds him trolling the local churches for female companionship, Jay gets much, much more than he bargained for.
Jay, like his creator is a stockbroker, who has just been unceremoniously dumped by his girlfriend, and on the advice of his realtor decides to try a church service instead of a dating service. Before he know what's hit him, Jay is meeting with the young men's group at the church and taking a Memorial Day beach trip with them (19 men, 34 women, a gross or two of Oreos). He's also met a churchmember named Ally who spends most of her time in the mission fields of Ecuador --- but enough time at home so that her verbal sparring and fast-food-throwing skills haven't been dulled. Before you can jump a pew, Jay is smitten. He and Ally become so engrossed in getting to know each other that they float off course in inner tubes and are forced to spend a night alone on a beach.
However, this is a Christian novel, and while that night on the beach causes some sheepish consternation for the pair, it doesn't involve anything else. What makes Flabbergasted so fresh and refreshing is Jay's unchurched perspective. When he arrives in Greenville, he has very little knowledge of what is means to be an adult Christian, and this causes him (and others) no end of confusion.
Blackston has not chosen to have his main character poke fun at others at their expense; it's all really at Jay's expense, since he's entered a world where church rules. That doesn't mean, as he soon discovers, that there isn't any fun to be had. Even when Ally returns to South America, Jay has dates to go on, meetings to attend, and all manner of funny, lively characters to meet. His new church-centered life is far from boring.
Yet his yearning for Ally remains strong despite the lure of other charming young woman at home, and soon Jay finds himself visiting Ecuador --- and discovering that Ally has reserves and qualities he never imagined. This is no boy-meets-girl, boy-gets-girl story --- but it has all of the spark of one. Blackston has a sequel in the works that will appear in May 2004 and will include many of the same characters (although in what proportions and contortions remains to be seen).
Reviewed by Bethanne Kelly Patrick on May 1, 2003