The Heart of the Family: Laughter and Tears from a Real Family
I first heard of Adrian Plass through my brother, who lived in Scotland in the late 1980s. At that time, Plass had written a humorous Christian bestseller, THE SACRED DIARY OF ADRIAN PLASS (AGED 37 3/4) that did not get published in the States until the '90s. He's still better known in Europe, but it's time for Americans to discover him.
Like many prolific writers of a certain age, Plass is now producing thematic compilations of pieces from previously published work. At Christmastime Zondervan published a seasonal collection, AND JESUS WILL BE BORN. And here, now, is a family-based volume subtitled "Laughter and Tears from a Perfect Real Family."
The book is structured in seven parts, each containing nine to twelve unnumbered chapters hooked to an issue that affects or is affected by family dynamics: The Problem with Perfection, Communication, Patterns, Priorities, Power of the Past, Death of Loved Ones, and The Father's Love. Many chapters open with a few introductory paragraphs, giving the context of the selection --- is it nonfiction or fiction? in whose voice? set here for what purpose? Without this orientation the reader would be lost, but with it the text has clear form and progression.
Plass is best known for his ability to poke facetious fun at his own --- and our- --- self-righteousness, self-importance and idiosyncratic churchiness without being disrespectful of the core of the Christian faith. (Know that this is British humor, based on British lifestyle norms; let's have a beer or a whiskey, for example, is not a conscience-breaking suggestion.) The family takes an annual trip to a Christian festival titled "Let God Spring into Royal Acts of Harvest Growth." A family's annual newsletter describes the wife's new goals: "Next year, in addition to her present activities, she plans to become a special policewoman, stand as a prospective parliamentary candidate, complete a solo sailing trip around the world, and find a method of bottling gooseberries that doesn't lose all the flavour." A small-group leader makes a diary entry: "What an amazing meeting! We were all mightily blessed! (Thynn says he wasn't, but I told him he was in ways that he knows not of.)"
The best selections are from a book oddly titled NEVER MIND THE REVERSING DUCKS. These chapters anecdotally and quirkily explicate a Scripture passage, devotional style. "Patterns from the Past" ends with an unexpected exhortation: "Give God your dark side. He will rig a few lamps up and use it for something." Another, based on the calling of the fishermen-disciples, concludes: "If he does call you, do find out what he wants from you. It will change your life."
The book deserved a better design and package. Purposeless gray-tinted quadrilaterals overlay the opening paragraphs of chapters. Distracting elements of the jacket drawing --- cartoon-like "retro" home furnishings --- fill out the last pages of chapters. All of this printed on coarse oyster-colored paper.
At 298 pages, the collection is a little too long. Generally the shorter one- to four-page selections are most engaging. Some of the longer selections should have been left out, though one long chapter, titled "Nearly Cranfield," brought me to tears. The affective chapter recounts the emotional and physical journey Adrian (aged seven) takes to assimilate the news of his grandmother's death. That one chapter gave credence to the book's subtitle; the promise of tears --- it's so often hype. It's good to find a book that lives up to such a promise.
Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on July 20, 2004