CFBA Tour: In High Places

Popular wisdom is that women are more likely to read fiction and men are more likely to read non-fiction. Tom Morrisey challenges this notion with his novel IN HIGH PLACES (Bethany House March 1, 2007), and without any car chases. But definitely plenty of testosterone. To put it succinctly, if you’re not into vicarious adventure, you’ll learn more about rock climbing than you ever wanted to know.In High Places is a first-person narrative, Wonder Years style, (if you slept through 80’s television, that’s where an adult narrator regales us with tales from his formative years.) We meet Patrick Nolan, at sixteen, just coming back from a father-son weekend rock climbing trip, to find his mother has died suddenly, leaving behind only circumstantial evidence as to why.
His father, with no faith to sustain him, takes his son and moves down to their favorite rock climbing haunt in West Virginia, where he opens a rock climbing equipment store and plays chicken with death.In terms of craftsmanship, for his chosen view point, it is very well done, albeit with the exception of the last twenty or so pages, which seemed quite rushed; with few actual scenes and mostly the narrator telling us what happened to him next. These last chapters read almost like an extremely long epilogue, except we are switched to this “down-climbing” mode almost before we realize we vicarious rock-climbers had, ah, summited. He’s bought himself some wiggle room, and does come back for a strong ending to give us closure, but in my opinion, his readers deserved better.To be fair, though, this amounts to around twenty pages or so out of over three hundred otherwise fairly well written pages, and often emotionally gripping as well. The converse of my earlier comment, is that if you are a vicarious adventurer (or an actual rock climber), this will still be a treat for you. We may have fallen in the crux at the top of this climb, and some readers might miss the summit as I did, but he gets us back down in one piece and one fall doesn’t necessarily ruin an otherwise exhilarating climb.

If you don’t care for novels where the two main characters aren’t among the faithful for most of the book, you might want to find another tour guide, as you can’t expect sinners to act, or believe like saints. There was a reference to Evolution, which ought to offend more than it will. It’s natural for Patrick’s father to have that view, given his personality and his rejection of God, but it is certainly not helpful and in my opinion would have been better avoided.

However, I suspect the manner of the mother’s death will make many more uncomfortable. In fact, if you’re prone to depression and suicidal tendencies, this is probably not the title for you.

Otherwise, for a then-sixteen-year-old male deprived of any religious training, the narrator is practically a saint from the get go (which will make some most unhappy), even if his initial motivation for getting religion is his infatuation for the daughter of a baptism-happy preacher.

The preacher could have used a tad more wisdom (as should have his daughter, who at times showed less wisdom than the young man lacking the benefit of a religious upbringing). Patrick really should have been given a much better understanding of the faith before being baptized, even with his evident belief in once saved always saved, which if you have strong feelings against, you probably will take issue with this book, as that is the only logical explanation I can think of for an assertion the pastor makes (that I can reveal without spoiling part of the plot.) This strikes me as odd, considering his church was evidently a Pentecostal Holiness congregation. I’d be curious to know how the pastor ended up with such a congregation, as what the book gives me, crossed with my past experiences, leaves me doubtful of the situation.

Regardless, I did like the subtle way he handled the issue of how we Christians can be far too quick to judge people, and we’re especially too quick to judge based on circumstantial evidence, or worse, by superimposing on others a commandment given to us personally (by the Holy Spirit versus the written Word of God).

By no means are we free to contradict God’s judgment and God forbid we give, ah, seekers, the impression by reciting a simple incantation, er, prayer, they can sin all they please and still go to Heaven. But by no means should we presume to know enough to cast a soul into Hell, either. As long as there is breath in our lungs, there is hope for repentance and salvation. As the author suggests, we must always hope.

Death is a thief, and sadly it catches many unawares and they do end up in Hell, but who can tell how many turn at the last moment and are saved out of the fire? We are finite creatures, at the very least on this earth. Even when the evidence appears damning, as it will to many in Morrisey’s In High Places, there may be more out there that we cannot see that would completely change everything.

So beware, if you don’t like stories with a moral. This one will please you for most of the story, only to bitterly disappoint you in the end by producing a Christian theme, after all.