Review

Veneer: Living Deeply in a Surface Society

by Timothy Willard and Jason Locy

It seems every few years a book is published that serves as a clarion call to the country or the church itself: “Wake up.” Maybe it’s the John the Baptist effect, someone crying in the wilderness “Mend your ways.”

Here, Timothy Willard and Jason Locy, who never divulge their ages but might be near 40, take on the lack of depth in our society and relationships. They begin and end with a description of Dean Brandt’s woodyard and sawmill in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Brandt reclaims old wood, “selling it as some of the most beautiful hardwood flooring you can buy.” The mill’s motto is “We don’t offer perfection but, rather, the beauty of imperfection.” The knots, the nail holes, the growth rings.

"Willard and Locy are at their best when they’re retelling Bible stories. They have an engaging fresh take on scenes such as the Tower of Babel and David dancing before the Lord."

Willard and Locy contrast this to the veneer-covered flooring sold through hardware chains. This wood may look perfect, but what is the veneer hiding? What’s more, is wood meant to look “perfect”? “Like engineered flooring, people apply a veneer. Embarrassed by the scars of our humanity, we try to hide our brokenness.”

The first half of the book is prophetic in an analyzing “forswear thy foolish ways” sense. We reduce life to a social networking profile. We meet with friends but can’t disconnect from cell phones enough to ignore their ring tones and relate to the people standing in front of us. We buy what we don’t need to keep up our façade of success. We engage in self-promotion and physical self-enhancement for the sake of image. We aren’t honest about ourselves, even within our families. There’s truth in what Willard and Locy say, and it might be hard to read if they weren’t such good writers.

Yes, they are good at turning a phrase. However, they are writing from a distance. The book would have been stronger if they had included personal anecdotes that gave the reader some entrée into their own lives. But then maybe that would have drawn them down the road toward self-promotion, which they warn against. You might like the book a bit more if you read the ending first --- the concluding four-page authors’ note that introduces Locy’s first-person voice.

Willard and Locy are at their best when they’re retelling Bible stories. They have an engaging fresh take on scenes such as the Tower of Babel and David dancing before the Lord. 

This is a book for and about young people concerned with “moving up,” a generation that has been promised they can change the world. “We feel unsatisfied unless we have influence over others. We feel irritated unless others approve of us.” And there’s a curious line: “At thirty-five, we look back on our lives and wonder what went wrong.” At 35, well, there’s a whole life ahead…

The answers Willard and Locy propose have to do with relationships --- with God and with the real-life people with whom we live, work and worship. They ask for honesty to admit that we are scarred. With God’s grace, we can find beauty even in the imperfection of humanity.

Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on December 14, 2011

Veneer: Living Deeply in a Surface Society
by Timothy Willard and Jason Locy