No Dark Valley
Jamie Langston Turner, one of the best of the current crop of evangelical fiction writers, turns in another fine and richly detailed novel, this one tracing the interior lives of a woman burned out on faith and of her neighbor, a man learning what it takes to live according to his newfound faith. Their vastly different but parallel stories eventually intersect in a way that challenges both of them to take a risk and leave their "dark valleys" behind.
Celia Coleman seems to relish her dark valley, choosing to live in a basement apartment in a small South Carolina town and keep any socializing to a bare minimum. Orphaned as a teenager, Celia spent her remaining high school years in the Georgia home of her legalistic and grim grandmother. After attending college in Delaware, Celia moved to South Carolina and took a job in an art gallery.
When her grandmother dies, Celia is forced to keep her promise to return to Georgia for the funeral. The unhappy reunion with her relatives unsettles her, as does her discovery that she has inherited her grandmother's meager estate --- a rundown house and adjacent store, and assorted household possessions. Instead of making a final break with her Georgia past as she had wanted to do, Celia will remain connected to it, at least until the estate is settled.
Meanwhile, Bruce Healey's story is a bit tougher to tell without giving away too much of the plot line. Let's just say that he's not what he appears to be at first. He tries to befriend Celia but finds her to be surprisingly uncivil --- in fact, downright icy. Her behavior is perfectly understandable to the reader, although Bruce is baffled by it. But then, he knows a whole lot more than the reader does at first.
Which brings us to the end of the book, which will probably be a subject of debate among Turner fans until they get distracted by her next book. Some will no doubt consider it to be a pat ending, and I can understand that. But I thought she handled the ending well. It was so like God, in so many ways. The story begins to reach its conclusion in a wonderful scene --- or actually, a series of scenes --- in a Cracker Barrel restaurant, and from that point on, I had no trouble believing that the hand of God was completely involved in the lives of the characters.
One of the gifts that sets Turner apart as an author is the exquisite detail of her writing. She crafts every scene so meticulously that readers can easily become immersed in the setting. That's true of all of her books. Unlike her other novels, though, NO DARK VALLEY is much more character-driven than plot-driven, with much of the story developed through the interior thoughts of the point-of-view characters. That makes for a slower-paced novel, but that wasn't a problem for me and may not be for many of Turner's longtime fans as well. Regardless of where you place this in comparison with her previous novels, NO DARK VALLEY is a worthwhile read that underscores the many reasons why Turner is a favorite in the Christian market.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on August 1, 2004