The two titles I’m addressing this month are Miracle At the Higher Grounds Café, by Max Lucado with Candace Lee and Eric Newman; and The Patmos Deception, by Davis Bunn.
Both books have something of a romantic subplot. And that got me to considering just where the distinction lies, in Christian fiction, between “a romance” and a novel that does not quite fit into the romance category. One way I have traditionally made the distinction is based on the formula defined by Gayle Gaymer Martin in Writing the Christian Romance. The male and female protagonists go through a progression of Attention Interest, Desire, and Falling in Love. ‘Miracle’ in a sense follows a variation of this formula, and although that final ‘falling in love’ stage is left unclear in its resolution to the reader in ‘Patmos,’ it, too, to an extent follows that basic progression with regard to the romantic involvement. Yet, I would categorize neither book as a romance. Not only does ‘Miracle’ follow the traditional formula in a sense, it also uses a concept that flows into and out of popularity within the Christian romance genre: reconciliation within a compromised established romantic relationship: often but not always a marriage.
In both books, the key to me is where the author places the emphasis as well as whether another category fits. In this regard, ‘Patmos’ is easier to categorize than ‘Miracle’. The Patmos Deception deals in suspense and intrigue as characters investigate theft and smuggling of valuable antiquities. The professional expertise of the three primary characters (two men and one woman) makes them candidates for this mission. The book’s emphasis lies in the intrigue-related events, but the romance sub-plot leads to romantic rivalry which, in my opinion, the author leaves unsatisfactorily unresolved. Apart from the emphasis on the suspense elements, that unsatisfactory lack of resolution is a reason I would take this book out of the romance category.
‘Miracle’ is a little more difficult to classify but again, I feel that the book’s emphasis on other elements of storyline with romantic aspects left as simply a subplot justifies classifying this as more what we might call Providential fantasy or even Christian mainstream. This novel examines the unseen world of angelic forces surrounding and working on behalf of the faithful, including believers who are presently faith challenged. The primary (female) protagonist is dealing with several life issues, and marriage status simply figures as part of an overall mix. Although the Attention and Interest phases primarily occur in the past shown through recollections, this book generally does incorporate the overall Attention, Interest, Desire, and Falling in Love progression. However, these romantic concerns are given equal if not lesser emphasis than other life challenges, which in my view takes the book out of the romance novel classification.
I wasn’t sure what I expected when I ordered the books; although in fact Bunn has written historical Christian romance before. The suspense in ‘Patmos’ is better done than I’ve seen in some other Christian suspense novels, and the presentation of the supernatural world shows better organization than some other works I’ve read in the past.
Overall, I did enjoy both reads and found them good representations of current Christian fiction that I, at least, would classify as external to the romance genre.