The Surface of Water: A Novel – Cynthia Beach

The Surface of Water: A Novel by Cynthia L. Beach
Published by IVP on April 9, 2024
Genres: Fiction, Christian
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The only person who can uncover his secret has arrived.

Matthew Goodman is tired, and his one wish is something he can't have. Instead he focuses on the demands of his work as pastor of Chicagoland's Calvary Community, including bringing a new administrative assistant onboard. New hire 25-year-old Trish Card watches him with somber, lake-clear eyes. What he doesn't know about Trish and her real reason for appearing will dismantle his world.

The Surface of Water is about a megachurch pastor, a famous evangelist's son, living in a world beyond his control. It's also a story about a young woman trying to understand her complicated life. In the #ChurchToo era, this novel invites readers to see life's shadowed edges―isolation, power, and abuse―illumined by the light of truth.

This powerful novel explores themes related to celebrity culture in the church, the reality of abuse, and issues related to power and privilege. The suspenseful story follows a young woman who has started working as a megachurch pastor’s personal assistant in order to investigate a mystery from the past. The less that you know about the story going into it, the better, because there are lots of intriguing themes and subtle elements that readers will appreciate the most without prior knowledge of where the story is going. I enjoyed the book’s complex, slowly unfolding plot, vivid descriptions of the characters, and beautiful writing.

Cynthia Beach writes in a lyrical, literary style, using lots of metaphors and allusions to express the book’s themes indirectly and foreshadow different aspects of the plot. She also did a wonderful job writing from shifting points of view, and this builds the book’s pacing and sense of mystery. However, there were times where I felt confused and couldn’t tell what was happening. Sometimes, a point-of-view character was simply thinking about something in vague terms because of their sense of secrecy or discretion, and this would build suspense for an eventual reveal. However, I couldn’t always tell the difference between when the author was being vague for plot purposes, and when I was missing something important and was supposed to read more between the lines. I also struggled with some confusing transitions regarding the passage of time.

The Surface of Water: A Novel is a powerful, unique debut work. This book tackles tough topics that rarely appear in Christian fiction, and the author created memorable characters and a vivid scene of place that will stick with me for a long time. Her descriptive powers are especially strong, and the writing is beautiful. This book is longer than it needs to be, with some superfluous scenes and vanishing subplots, and the dialogue about social issues sometimes feels a little forced and preachy, but even though I noticed these flaws as I read, I also enjoyed the story and its themes, and have kept thinking about it. Because this novel involves some disturbing and potentially triggering themes, this book isn’t for everyone, but I would recommend it to people looking for a powerful, realistic, and heartfelt story that explores real-world issues in a redemptive way.