Monday, June 20, 2016

A novel for Sunday morning

Reading Richard S. Wheeler's 2001 novel Restitution is a bit like going to Sunday school. Not that there's anything wrong with Sunday school. I highly recommend it. Yet Sunday school lessons, especially those aimed at children, can be simplistic, as occurred to me yesterday while listening to a sermon about King David, adulterer, murderer, lousy parent, etc. This wasn't the King David I learned about in Sunday school.

In Wheeler's western novel, Truman Jackson is a rancher in Utah who, though he has said little about himself, has won the respect of his fellow ranchers and the residents of the town where he does business and where he attends church with his family. Then one day he stands up at a community gathering and confesses that his real name is Will Dowd and that as a teenager he was part of a gang of robbers operating in Wyoming. While other gang members, mostly relatives, stole the money, he held their horses. The others were all caught or killed, but he escaped and was never pursued by the law. Now he believes that as a Christian he must both publicly confess his sins and, as much as possible, return whatever money was stolen by the gang.

His confession affects different people in different ways. Some admire Truman Jackson and his wife, Grace, all the more. Some wonder if the family can still be trusted. A neighbor, who also happens to own the bank and run the cattlemen's association, sees an opportunity to take ownership of the Jackson ranch. The local sheriff, a stickler for following the letter of the law, decides to check to see if anyone in Wyoming is still interested in Will Dowd., especially since someone was murdered in one of the gang's holdups.

Late in the novel one of the characters says, "This makes me wonder about Jackson. People who are flamboyantly good, usually aren't." Well, Jackson isn't so much flamboyantly good as humbly good, and his goodness is both sincere and instructive. This makes for a good Sunday school lesson, but a less than ideal novel.

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