On the very first page of THE GATE by Dann A. Stouten, readers are treated to a clever teaser and summary of what this story is all about: “The property was listed by a guy named Michael DeAngelo from Paradise Realty. The ad said, ‘Angel’s Gate --- the back door to God’s country,’ and I noticed there was an open house scheduled for the weekend.”
Schuyler (Sky) Hunt is a former car salesman/current burned-out Christian counselor who is looking forward to a much-needed getaway with his wife. But their plans somehow turn into a shopping trip with their daughters. Since a weekend at the mall is pretty much the last place Sky wants to spend his vacation time, he considers a few other options. When he sees the ad for the summer cottage he remembers visiting as a child, he decides that a nice leisurely drive by himself and a couple days by the lake sounds like heaven.
But Schuyler has no idea just how heavenly his trip will be.
"Dann A. Stouten crafts a thought-provoking and engaging first novel, and as far as allegoricals go, THE GATE is one of those stories you’ll want to read more than once in order to catch and process all of the metaphors and meanings."
Once he arrives at the cottage, he meets Michael DeAngelo, the realtor with an undeniable “presence” about him. When Michael refers to Schuyler by a nickname he hasn’t been called in almost 50 years, Sky is taken aback, but figures it’s just a coincidence. Then things get really strange, and at first Sky assumes his wife is playing a joke on him. But when Michael introduces Sky to Ahbee, an elderly man, and they spend a few moments talking, Sky understands the true meaning of the ad, and the fact that entering through the gate really did put him in “God’s country.” Later, Sky also meets Ahbee’s son, Josh, and a woman named Rae.
Throughout the next couple of days, people from Schuyler’s past who have already died show up at the cottage, each bringing along a life lesson for Sky to take home with him.
If you enjoy allegorical novels, you’ll find a lot to love with THE GATE, which has been compared to the controversial THE SHACK. However, even if you were not a fan of THE SHACK, don’t let that influence your decision to pick up this book. The story is strong, the writing entertaining, and the theology a little less debatable, although it certainly offers food for thought.
Without delving into specific comparisons, I will say that THE GATE presents the Trinity in a genuine and plausible way. The character of Ahbee is crafted as many perceive God --- an elderly, wise and loving father. Josh is very much as Jesus is portrayed in the Bible --- young-30s, gentle, easygoing, with a sparkle in his eye and knack for speaking in riddles. Then there’s Rae, clearly a picture of the Holy Spirit. Although some may disagree, I personally believe that the author chose to present Rae as a female because women typically have many of the characteristics of the Holy Spirit --- sensitivity, the ability to offer comfort, calm, and nurture, and an overall sense of peace. These are all traits Rae possesses.
As for the storyline, the beginning seemed a bit disjointed for me. This is not due to the writing, which is enjoyable, but I couldn’t quite connect with the spiritually-lacking elements that warranted the reason Sky was chosen for this “journey into God’s backyard.” I found myself wanting a bit more information of just what was missing from his life or what he needed to learn. But little by little, as Sky’s history unfolds, with the appearances of people from his past and conversations with Josh, Ahbee and Rae, the pieces come together quite nicely. By the end of the story, I had a better grasp of the lessons Sky needed to learn, which I also took with me after the final page --- lessons about regret, appreciation, enjoying every moment, endurance and forgiveness.
Dann A. Stouten crafts a thought-provoking and engaging first novel, and as far as allegoricals go, THE GATE is one of those stories you’ll want to read more than once in order to catch and process all of the metaphors and meanings. If you’re like me, you’ll find this offers a fun and interesting taste of heaven, and leaves you with anticipation for Stouten’s next novel.
Reviewed by Lynda Lee Schab on May 17, 2013