Published by Thomas Nelson on May 21, 2019
Genres: Fiction, Christian, Speculative
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Allison Moore is making it. Barely. The Seattle area architecture firm she started with her best friend is struggling, but at least they’re free from the games played by the corporate world. She’s gotten over her divorce. And while her dad’s recent passing is tough, their relationship had never been easy.
Then the bomb drops. Her dad had a secret life and left her mom in massive debt. As Allison scrambles to help her mom find a way out, she’s given a journal, anonymously, during a visit to her favorite coffee shop. As the pressure to rescue her mom mounts, Allison pours her fears and heartache into the journal.
But then the unexplainable happens. The words in the journal, her words, begin to disappear. And new ones fill the empty spaces— words that force her to look at everything she knows about herself in a new light. Ignoring those words could cost her everything . . . . but so could embracing them.
Allison and Parker have a problem. When their dad died, he left behind the legacy of a secret life of gambling debts. Now, unless they can band together, unscrupulous loan sharks threaten their family’s financial well-being. In the midst of this, Allison is given a journal—not just any journal, but a supernatural one—and she begins to pour herself into it. And she finds that the words within it change to words that force her to look at everything she knows about herself in a new light.
My difficulty with The Pages of Her Life is two-fold. First, the practical problem. The central impetus for both Allison and Parker is to pay off their father’s debts. There’s a nice metaphor to be had about the sins of the father being paid by the future generations, but the way in which this plays out in the book doesn’t seem very natural. If they were legally her father’s debts, they would have died with him. Possibly, their mother would have been responsible to may what was possible through his estate—which she is already doing by selling their home.
Neither Allison or Parker have any legal obligation to the debt, which makes their desperate attempts to “save their mom” fall flat. Further, what if mom just declared bankruptcy (because she is bankrupt) and walked away from it? There’s a lot of drama placed into a situation that is certainly serious, but doesn’t quite have the weight Rubart gives it. If these had been mafia loan sharks or some other criminal-type coming after their mom, that may have given it weight, but clearly portrayed to not be the case here—which probably brings up a valid point about predatory lending, but that’s neither here nor there.
Second, the plotting problem. The journal that Allison receives, which will comprise the titular The Pages of Her Life, doesn’t feature hardly at all in the book. She receives a mysterious journal—one that changes her words to more positive expressions—and is able to easily track down someone who knows every bit about it and is nonplussed to discover that the legendary journals are real.
We learn that a monk made seven journals five hundred years ago and they were to be given to people who need them. The guy telling Allison this (the curator of Ballyho Curiosities, which seems to be a real place in Seattle) is very casual about discovering an item that holds angelic powers. But after that, there’s a few entries, but Allison isn’t really challenged or changed by what she writes or what the book changes. Moreover, we find her brother, Parker, going on a similar journey of discovery without the journal. Which wouldn’t be much an issue if the novel’s entire premise and title wasn’t centered on the journal.
Rubart also continues his propensity to tell, rather than show. The book is heavy on exposition and explanation—twice quoting extended passages of Scripture. He also throws in a cameo of his main characters of Rooms, which becomes more than a cameo as the book progresses. While the cameo fits, it’s out of place for anyone who hasn’t read Rooms or, you know, thought it was the worst novel he’s written so far.
The good is that Rubart’s story is still compelling. I kept reading because the hidden strength of the novel is Parker’s storyline. He stole every scene he was in and it’s obvious this story should have been focused on him rather than Allison and there was no need for a supernatural journal. The working relationship with Derrick and Allison and they way Derrick conducts himself hypocritically and sanctimoniously is also a strong story point, but didn’t have as well-executed a payoff and Derrick (and his assistant, Linda, especially, comes off as a caricature).
In the end, I keep coming back to James Rubart because there’s enough in his writing to make me see the potential, but I’ve yet to see it fully play out—exception being The Five Times I Met Myself. He writes very strong, very good characters but the stories he places them in are often crafted around what the character needs and the transformation they must go through and don’t often seem organic or natural. If you’re already a Rubart fan, this is his style and this is what he’s done in the past, so you’ll love it. Many do—he has the Christy, Carol, and INSPY awards to prove it. But he hasn’t convinced me yet.