The Door of the Heart by Diana Finfrock Farrar

four stars

Confronting the issue of homosexuality and Christianity head on, The Door of the Heart focuses on the journey of protagonist Tammy Sloan after her son bullies a gay student at his high school. The wife of a conservative Texas politician, Tammy begins to reexamine her values after the incident blows up in the media, and embarks on a mission not just to view queer issues through a loving Christian perspective, but to become an active participant in positive change. A generous look at homosexuality through a Christian lens, Diana Finfrock Farrar’s novel interweaves multiple story lines that feature endearing characters each confronting the consequences of homophobia and demonstrating a need for the understanding and the embracing of the queer community, especially in the heart of Bible-belt reactionaryism.

The Door of the Heart is a magnificently compelling read that is hard to put down, although it often functions more like an essay than a novel; while its strong themes lend it great potency, it struggles to avoid being dry and straightforward. The characters can seem to be the embodiment of the themes that they represent, and therefore don’t always respire as naturally as a reader of fiction might like. The moral framework is very clear cut, which makes it feel more like propaganda than a balanced look at all of the socio-political and religious issues at play. Many details seem so literally connected to the exploration of the book’s themes that Tammy’s world can feel contrived. This results in a novel that is a bit too much about ideas and not enough about the characters and the situations that convey them to the reader. By the time we leave Tammy behind, there are story arcs and characters that seem undeniably thin or lost – but, really, this is because we can’t help but wonder how some of the friends we’ve encountered along the way are doing on their own various journeys, as there are some truly moving portraits of friendship and family. Ultimately, the drawbacks do little to mar what is otherwise a fantastic novel. If the narrative voice lacks a bit of personality, the writing is overall tight, lucid, and meticulously composed. If the metaphors are heavy-handed, they are also strong and deeply resonant. If characters can get overly didactic in their speech and inner musings, they learn and evolve well, too. If the arguments are repetitive, some inspired details glisten with the richness and warmth of everyday life and a harmonious balance is achieved between these and the rhetoric. If you wish the novel could let us make our own inferences instead of connecting the dots so much, you still get very caught up on it; it really gets under your skin and forces you to think and feel. In the mouths of her characters, Finfrock Farrar’s arguments are convincing and compelling; there is a lot to make the reader angry about injustices and to stir them out of complacency and compel them to action, fueled by powerful and intense moments full of genuine feeling and pathos as well as insightful examinations of the intricacies of human emotions and relationships. The book is incredibly well researched and informed; the subject matter is handled with delicacy, respect, and maturity, and the reader cannot help but be struck by how fully it brims with compassion, thoughtfulness, and goodwill. Although The Door to the Heart is very much for a Christian audience, it absolutely has a wide appeal and it is difficult to imagine that it couldn’t melt the iciest of hearts and achieve the good work of opening minds and arms that it sets out to do.

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