What a great premise for a novel. Seven members of a Presbyterian church are given the task of spending their Sundays together, traveling throughout the South in an aging Ford Econoline van in pursuit of that ever-elusive creature, the perfect pastor. Of course, hijinks ensue. But so do the everyday events and traumatic crises in the lives of the people on the search committee.
Those people include Travis, an assistant manager at a supermarket whose marriage is threatened by his fear of fatherhood; Matt, who holds a Ph.D. in physics and falls for a rather forward truck-stop waitress (really?); and Bill, an older man whose life is focused on providing for his wife should his heart problems worsen. Then there's Dot, middle-aged, critical, and vocal in her criticism; Frankie, an elderly woman whose reason and humor helps keep the peace among the churchgoers; and Joyce, a widowed Yankee among North Carolinians. And finally, there's Susie, an attractive, divorced bookkeeper.
"THE SEARCH COMMITTEE includes many moments of lighthearted humor and amusement, some of which Travis provides as he writes down the often funny church signs they pass on their way to their destination church."
Interesting characters, every one of them. But the problem with an ensemble cast, no matter how interesting, is that it's difficult to get to know any one character enough to truly care about them and what happens to them. Tim Owens gets a lot of credit for trying to make this work; this is his first novel, and he certainly took on a huge task. He likely intended Travis to be the central character, but when the point of view shifts among seven characters --- actually, eight characters, counting John, their interim pastor --- it's hard to tell who the main character is supposed to be.
Each character faces a challenge of some sort over the months the committee spends on the road, with some of their problems being much more serious than others. As they spend more and more time with each other, their differences in age, opinions and faith perspectives become less and less important, and they start to bond in a way they never could have predicted when their search began.
THE SEARCH COMMITTEE includes many moments of lighthearted humor and amusement, some of which Travis provides as he writes down the often funny church signs they pass on their way to their destination church. It also includes several elements that readers will either love or ignore, depending on their theological and literary nature. One element is the epigraphs that precede each chapter; some are Bible verses, but others are brief passages from various Presbyterian documents whose relationship to the chapter is not always clear. A second element is the inclusion of three complete sermons, which some readers will no doubt appreciate and others will no doubt skip, having seen this literary device overused in many other Christian novels.
What all of this adds up to is an enjoyable, light read that provides evidence of the promising future Tim Owens has as a novelist. He's clearly not afraid to stretch himself as a writer; with THE SEARCH COMMITTEE, he simply used a much-too-difficult format to tell his story.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on February 17, 2012