Heaven's Wager by Ted Dekker
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
by Ted Dekker
Ted Dekker is now a well established Christian. From his list of works I have read Adam, Blink (my favourite), House (with Peretti), The Bride Collector, and Obsessed. There may have been more, but I find that his book titles are easy to confuse because they all sound similar.
I have always enjoyed Dekker's work as I have found it to be more challenging and interesting than other modern Christian literature. (Sorry Karen Kingsbury and Janette Oke. I'm just not that into sappy romances.) Jan Karon and Frank Peretti are my exceptions to my aversion.
Unfortunately, Heaven's Wager very much missed the mark for me and I struggled to get through it. I find it strange that there are so many conflicting reviews from "THIS IS THE BEST BOOK I HAVE EVER READ PRAISE THE LORD" to "I could not finish this book". To me, there was nothing phenomenal, amazing or awe-inspiring about it.
The first thing I disliked about this novel was the main character Kent Anthony. He is a 30-something systems analyst/brilliant coder who spends five years toiling away on building a program from code that will run on the computers for his banks multiple locations. Hailed as a breakthrough program that will save the company millions of dollars, he is waiting eagerly for his bonus that will create a new life for his family, wife Gloria and son Spencer.
The beginning of the book establishes that Gloria is a believing Christian who spends every Thursday morning with her mother Helen, praying and opening up the floodgates from heaven. Spencer, Gloria and Helen experience heaven in a more visceral and tangible way than anyone has. Dekker spares no words describing (and on multiple occasions) what he believes heaven to consist of including bright lights, laughing, God's presence that is ineffable, all manifesting in the viewer being almost unable to physically handle the glory. Many time the characters are twisting in their chairs, jutting their faces or jaws forward, mouths wide open, etc. In each of these prayer visits they focus their prayers on Kent, praying for his salvation.
Meanwhile, Kent flies out to a conference where he will roll out the new program AFPS and receive his credit due. However, shortly after he arrives at the conference, he receives a message saying Gloria has become seriously ill and to return immediately to see her. He frantically rushes home on the first flight he can get, instructing his coworkers to make sure to present the program aka properly give him credit. Upon arriving at the hospital, he realizes he is too late and his wife is being covered up with a sheet.
At this point it becomes clear to the reader that Helen has had some sort of revelation from God about a "game", pieces beginning to be moved into place. She had foreseen that Gloria was going to die, although when/where/how was left ambiguous. She continues to see these ominous snatches of the future and describes the scenes as "heavens watching from above, waiting".
Kent struggles immensely after Gloria's death. He returns to work and quickly discovers that his coworkers and boss have betrayed him. His dream of being a multi-millionaire is ripped away from him as his boss claims to have patented the AFPS program, taking full credit and monetary bonus away from Kent.
Of course this enrages him and he begins to plot his revenge, ignoring others around him including his son. On a fateful day he argues with Spencer and then leaves for work. Hours later he receives a call that Spencer has become a victim of a hit-and-run, left for dead.
The adjectives and phrases used to describe his reaction are ridiculous. He feels a burning or something, runs through the bank howling and screaming, shoves people out of the way, feels like he's losing his mind etc. It's all very sensational and doesn't make much sense. The descriptions made me feel as though I was losing my mind trying to understand the snarling pit of Kent's mind.
He tries to begin a legal process against the bank but that falls through. All of his attempts to restart his life fail, including starting a relationship with a college ex-girlfriend. (They meet coincidentally on the side of a highway when he stops to help her with her stalled car. Surprise, surprise...the car engine turns over right away, leading us to conclude supernatural beings are at work.)
Kent also sees strange people that are never quite explained, which is my second biggest issue with book. I should probably just make a list.
1. Kent is a boring, selfish, unevolved character. He doesn't reach his redemption until one of the last chapters and it is sadly extremely anti-climactic.
2. Pretty much at the beginning of the book Helen reveals that the reasons why these events (deaths) are unfolding is to bring Kent to God. So we basically read the entire book already knowing the ending. There is a "big reveal" that I won't spoil for a potential reader, but I didn't find it a big reveal at all.
3. Lacy, Kent's ex-girlfriend, just lost her husband to cancer and had thought she would never love another man as she did. However, suddenly she finds herself falling in love with Kent, even though they only speak a few times on the phone. The relationship at best is tenuous and certainly doesn't seem real enough to warrant her realizing she is *gasp* in love with Kent.
4. Too preachy. The person likely to read this novel is a Christian and most Christians already know that there is nothing that will satisfy one's spiritual needs other than God. We want Kent struggle as he seeks to heal from his family's deaths and as he becomes a multi-millionaire. The epiphany that he reaches about money failing to satisfy him is not surprising and frankly comes across as preachy. Yes, money doesn't ultimately make anyone happy! There's no reason to dedicate multiple chapters proving that point.
5. The dialogue and language used was horrible. Several times Kent thinks to himself 'gag me', and I would like to be introduced to one grown man that uses that term multiple times, let alone a man who embezzles 20.0 million dollars and commits a major crime. Certainly I didn't expect any F bombs to be dropped, but "shit" wouldn't have been surprising or cause TOO many waves. It seemed completely unrealistic on so many counts.
6. The characters are not lovable. As much as I wanted to connect to them and care about them, I felt they were insipid and boring. Kent is self-absorbed (the point of the novel maybe) to the point that it verges on ridiculous. Gloria and Spencer play such small parts they barely count. Helen energetically walks 24 miles a day praying and should be a role model for us, but her countless lectures to the spineless pastor grated on my nerves. Lacy is laughable and cliched.
7. The supernatural role. It was interesting to read about Dekker's ideas of what heaven would be like, especially considering many Christians do not take such artistic license. However, I felt like Dekker was trying to emulate Frank Peretti, which didn't work out well. He introduces these random characters (a vagrant, a policeman, etc) who later Kent realizes MAY be spiritual beings sent to guide him. The problem is...they didn't really guide him. The entire novel was a big mass of confusion.
After reading this novel, I hope that Dekker returns to him former writing style and leaves the Peretti-esque adaptions alone. I very much enjoyed reading This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness as a teenager, but I firmly believe that only Peretti writes about spiritual warfare with the appropriate sensitivity and logic. Dekker should probably keep writing his thriller-spiritual novels and not attempt another novel of this style.
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