Review: Greetings From the Flipside

Hope Landon has had a hard time. When she was a little girl, her father disappeared mysteriously; when she was a teenager, her unique mother left her wondering if it was possible to drop dead from cringing too often. As an adult, she’s been stuck in the nothing-town Poughkeepsie. And now, just when she thinks she’s about to escape her life, her fiance jilts her on her wedding day.

Then somebody steals her car. There’s a hospital involved soon enough.

And Hope is about ready to give up on hope.

Greetings From the Flipside is the second collaboration between Rene Gutteridge and Cheryl McKay. I read their novel Never the Bride a few years ago and loved it. So as soon as I heard about Greetings From the Flipside, I wanted to read it.

There’s a lot of humor in this novel, as I had hoped; Hope is an entertaining narrator, and there are many funny moments. At the same time, an undercurrent of seriousness flows through the story. The characters seem, most of them, to be struggling.

Greetings From the Flipside has an unconventional structure: The beginning and ending chapters are in the third-person past tense, but the majority of the chapters only begin that way; then they flip to first-person present tense.

Here I am going to plunge into what I believe, after looking at the reviews, is the most controversial part of the book. I think the spoilers are light, but those who want to be spoiler-free should probably skip to the end of the review. Now, here we go:

Hope spends the majority of the book in a coma, and the third-person narrative at the chapters’ beginning takes place in what we call the real world, and the first-person narrative is the dream-world of Hope’s coma. Briefly, the main character spends most of the story unconscious. Some people disliked this.

I think it worked, and for several reasons. Due to the medical fact that comatose people can have some awareness of what is happening around them – and perhaps also to the suggestion of another realm – the two worlds do interact. The same drama plays out in each of them. Hope’s adventures, in one sense, never happened, but the central question of the story – Will she come back? – was answered in them.

Another reason it worked is that the authors made it fun. Sometimes it was funny to see the real world breaking into Hope’s dreams; sometimes it had the fun of a mystery. (I knew those random letters added up to something.) I came to look for any cross between the real world and the coma-world; their overlap fascinated me.

The novel’s overall theme is one of hope: Jake holding onto hope, though he sometimes doubted, and Hope ready to bid a snarky good-bye to hope, although she had, deep down, a scrap she couldn’t let go. True and false hope both take their turns on the stage.

Greetings From the Flipside executes a unique concept with deftness, all the while mixing its serious questions with humor. The style is engaging, the writing is skillful, and the characters are sympathetic – altogether an original and compelling romance.

Review: Never the Bride

I was browsing through the library’s Christian fiction section and saw the title Never the Bride. So I picked the book up. This is probably evidence of some sort of problem, but whatever.

Jessie Stone has lived her life with one dream: to be married. She longs for chivalry, she practices wedding vows, she fills her journals with dream proposals – using her feathery purple pen. But now she’s 34, and Prince Charming has yet to show.

But on February 14, God does. He has a request. He wants Jessie to give Him her purple pen. He wants her to let Him write her love story. Or she can keep on doing things her way, if that’s working for her. To a woman who, on Valentine’s Day, just spent her evening speed-dating, this is a compelling argument.

Never the Bride is a wonderful book, funnier and more profound than you would expect. Jessie Stone’s intense desire for marriage isn’t the set-up for a stormy love affair; it’s the set-up for a lesson in trusting God. We all struggle with obedience, with doing things God’s way, with just trusting. “Thy will be done” is an easy prayer, until we discover His will isn’t ours. And Jessie will discover that letting God write her story doesn’t mean she’ll always like the script.

But there is nothing heavy-handed in this book. The authors make their point, but they keep a light touch. Humor flows throughout. The book is written in first-person, present tense – an unusual but very enjoyable style, and one that lets the heroine shine through. Jessie Stone is an excellent character. Capable, dependable, and an incurable romantic; a dreamer with a keen sense of humor and a compulsive need to have things just so. When a friend calls her a control freak, she proves that she can so handle disorder by nudging her stapler out of alignment with the sticky notes. Then she can’t look at it.

The plot is brisk, and Jessie’s search for true love takes ups and downs. There is one tremendous plot twist, which I will not even hint at. The writing is fresh and uncluttered, and the narrative flows easily.

As I said earlier, God appears to speak with Jessie, invisible to everyone but her. This is the sort of thing that can be done well and must be done very carefully. Ultimately, I believe the authors succeeded. God appears to Jessie as a handsome young man. Naturally, this guise doesn’t do justice to the majesty and fearfulness of the God of the universe. Yet the authors seem conscious of that. There is a moment when Jessie contradicts Him and,

He looks down at me, and for a moment I catch a glimpse of who He really is inside that young man’s body. I squirm.

Glimpses of who He really is, behind the guise of that young man’s body, are continually given. You see the divine prerogative in His interrupting her schedule to bring her onto His, or in telling her it’s His script and He’s not accepting nominations for Prince Charming.

Never the Bride is a lovely book, witty, moving, and profound. It’s a keeper, even if you’re not waiting to be the bride.