Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Much Ado About ... Susannah

Christian fiction frequently comes under fire for its avoidance of (Dare I say it?) ... sex. Just Google the topic and you'll come up with pages of bloggers complaining that Christian authors are afraid to be real, and that readers don't want to go anywhere near the bedroom door even when it involves a married couple. Case in point, check out this recent blog post by Mike Duran and read through the discussion: Christian Fiction's "Non-Erogenous Zone".

Once upon a time, I'm certain peeking beyond the bedroom door was forbidden, but as a voracious reader of Christian fiction, in all genres, I find that's no longer true.

The book that precipated the discussion on Duran's blog, Spring for Susannah by Catherine Richmond, is a fair example. It's true, if you glance through the reviews on Amazon, you'll find a minority who are aghast at the sexual content of the book and claim teens shouldn't read it, nor should unmarried women. Wow. It obviously has some explicit passages, right?

Well, of course, I had to check it out for myself and purchased the book. (As an author, can you think of a better marketing tool than controversy?) I read through it in one day searching for what had these readers upset enough to encourage keeping the book away from teens and unwed women.

I failed to find anything.

Yes, the story told us that this newlywed couple had sex, quite frequently even. Richmond wrote about undoing buttons, and reading Song of Solomon, and the characters even talked about how they enjoyed sex, but explicit? Hardly. Keep it away from the kids or unmarried women? That's plain silly. Do these reviewers have any clue what their teens are required to read in high school? I read a few of the "racier" passages of Susannah to my unmarried 19 year old daughter, and she agreed that it's very mild.
Besides that, Spring for Susannah, which is written by a debut author, made July's Evangelical Christian Publishers Association's (ECPA) bestselling fiction list. Not an easy feat for any author, much less a debut author. On Amazon, of 106 customer reviews, 90 of them are 4 and 5 star. Hmm, it doesn't sound like the reading public is complaining. As a matter of fact, I think they're enjoying this book. They also enjoy other authors who like to bend the sexual boundaries: Julie Lessman, Deeanne Gist, and even Francine Rivers and Karen Kingsbury to name a few. Try Lisa Samson's The Passion of Mary-Margaret or Christa Parrish's Watch Over Me. No, we're not getting a bedroom play-by-play, not even close, but the authors don't shy away from it either.

The fact is, Christian writers are writing about sex, the public is buying the books and they're even enjoying them. Gasp!

So, my question is, why all the fuss? Yes, the majority of romances are sweet and very chaste, but to generalize and say Christian fiction is for prudes, misses the mark completely.

If you ask me, the controversy is much ado about nothing.

Questions for you: Do you think the controversy is warranted? What books/authors have you read in Christian fiction that push the boundaries?


  1. You know me, Brenda. I'm so with you on this. I know those who were shocked at Spring for Susannah would be downright outraged at my writing and certainly question my Christianity. No doubt. So I nominate myself for pushing the boundaries, but I must clarify (as you already know) I write for adults, and I don't write the way I do just for/because of the "rebellious" urge to push them but rather to expose both the ugliness and beauty of sex from the two opposite perspectives: the world's and God's.

    Authenticity makes stories real. Authenticity doesn't imply graphics although in certain instances a story might warrant it.

    It's okay for those who don't like to read about real romance which invariably results in the act of love either "properly" or "improperly", but it's not okay for them them to rule as judge and jury on the subject or the selection of reading material for others. I'm tempted to say here I pity the husbands of women who are shocked or offended by those parts of this novel--well, I guess I just did.

    Good post, Brenda. You know this is my hot-button issue. ;/

    (Plus I nominate Lisa Samson who does it with exceptional writing, sensitivity, tenderness, and honesty.)

  2. Well goodness gracious me!!!!! LOL This one is next on my TBR shelf and I'll be able to delve into it tomorrow sometime. Can't wait after reading all this controversy! So I can't comment specficially on this book, but I have read reviews of Christian books that have scandalized the reviewer and left me trying to remember the passage in question.

    The one that has me gobsmacked is a reader who thought Mary Connealy was too bold in portraying intimacy between married characters in Deep Trouble. I searched and searched but could only find a few lovely kissing scenes (which usually happen in the height of action like gunfire so they can't go very far anyway) LOL. Anyway, I certainly didn't see anything improper, unless it was the suggestion that married couples had sex.

    Personally I think portraying an honest intimacy between husband and wife would be a great role model for teens and unmarried women. (and a healthy one too.) Christian authors write romance with an emotional and spiritual connection and that's what we want singles to aspire to, I would think. Wouldn't reading those kind of romances encourage rather then degrade?

    I'm not talking graphic play-by-play -- I'm talking about emotions and that special connection that develops with someone you love. That turns it from 'sex' into something so much more meaningful.

  3. Nicole - Your books barely stretch the boundaries and are done very tastefully. I read nothing in them that I'd hide from my daughter.

    Like I said above, if you look at sales stats, the reader isn't the one upset in most cases, so why is there controversy? Why does this create such a huge discussion when the readers seem to eat up books by the so-called edgier authors? It seems people are trying to create problems where there isn't one.

  4. Kav, controversy aside, I know you will love Spring for Susannah. My favorite part is the banter between the male and female protags. Cathy Richmond does that so well. I love the setting too since it takes place in North Dakota in the later 1800s & mentions all these towns I'm very familiar with. You'll have to check back in once you've read it & we'll discuss.

    I 100% agree with you that it's good to portray honest intimacy between husband and wife, & doing so, with the spiritual element, adds so much more dimension & depth to a relationship. Like you said, it's about the emotions & spiritual connection. Could there be a better example for our youth in this age when "friends with benefits" is becoming the norm?

  5. Ladies, thank you so much for your support! My intention wasn't to be controversial or to cross some line, I just wanted to portray the development of a marriage, the couple's growth in all aspects of their relationship.
    Back in the '90s, Redbook magazine published a survey that concluded evangelical Christians have the best sex lives. Your reaction was probably like mine - of course! A committed monogamous relationship built on God's love is the foundation for a great sex life. Let's celebrate Christian marriages! And hey, Christian wives aren't sleeping on the couch until they want to conceive their next child.
    As to the comment that young, single women shouldn't read Spring for Susannah... I hope young, single women can find a hero like Jesse, minus the PTSD and financial woes!
    A reader was upset about Mary Connealy's Deep Trouble??? Maybe I'm a bad influence on Mary - she lives just up the river from me.
    Thanks for a great discussion, Brenda!

  6. You're very welcome, Cathy. Thanks for stopping by.

    I love that Redbook study. It really isn't surprising, is it? Like you said, that's exactly what we need to be showing our young people, especially when they learn the opposite from popular media. "Let's celebrate Christian marriages!" I wholeheartedly agree.

    I hope you keep influencing Mary Connealy & Lorna Seilstad & all the other authors who live around you. :)