Book Review of Lisa Sampson’s A Thing of Beauty

I first discovered this book when it was mentioned on Mike Duran’s blog after he shared some thoughts on a review it received from the Christian Manifesto. The review in question mentioned some profanity and taking of the Lord’s name in vein and since it was marketed to the Christian market this would have been a noteworthy point.

What drew me to this book was the hubbub. That doesn’t usually happen. Typically, I’m a middle of the road person so I don’t get drawn in by controversy, especially in art of any type, but this time I did, and because of that I expected the book to be very polarizing, something that would either get my blood boiling or prompt me to strongly defend it. I found out it did neither for me.

This was the first Lisa Sampson book I read and I found her to be a skilled storyteller. I would probably read another one of her books later on sometime, but this one… well, it just didn’t appeal to me. I wasn’t thrown off by the language (and didn’t find any mentions of the taking of the Lord’s name in vein) and found the odd swear word a point of characterization. The main character is, unfortunately, not likeable at all, even though we are encouraged to have sympathy for her because of a “rough” childhood. (I didn’t think it was all that rough actually. But that was just me, and admittedly I’m not always a good judge in this area.)

However, I could have gotten past the main character’s unlikeable qualities if the supporting characters were interesting. They didn’t appeal to me, either. I found them thin and for the most part quite unbelievable. I thought the story needed depth and perhaps a subplot or two.

It sounds like I didn’t like I enjoyed the book, right? So why did I say I would try another by this author? Because in between all the different things I didn’t care for, an obviously skilled storyteller was at work. I got the impression that perhaps with a different work, I might have enjoyed it. I might be wrong, but I’m willing to give it another shot somewhere down the line.

I also think the hubbub about this book raised my expectations, so when I finally read it I expected something big to stir within me. Maybe that’s what we should expect from books all the time.

Here’s a description, from Amazon:

Former child star Fiona Hume deserted the movie biz a decade ago—right after she left rehab. She landed in Baltimore, bought a dilapidated old mansion downtown, and hatched dreams of restoring it into a masterpiece, complete with a studio for herself.

She would disappear from public view and live an artist’s life.

That was the plan.

Ten years later, Fiona’s huge house is filled with junk purchased at thrift stores, haggled over at yard sales, or picked up from the side of the road. Each piece was destined for an art project . . . but all she’s got so far is a piece of twine with some antique buttons threaded down its length.

She’s thirty-two years old and still recognizable, but Fiona’s money has finally run out. She’s gotten pretty desperate, too, and in her desperation she’s willing to do almost anything for money. Almost. So it is that she comes to rent out the maid’s quarters to a local blacksmith named Josia Yeu.

Josia is everything Fiona isn’t: gregarious, peaceful, in control without controlling . . . in short, happy. As the light from the maid’s quarters begins to permeate the dank rooms of Fiona’s world, something else begins to transform as well—something inside Fiona. Something even she can see is beautiful.

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