Tami Hoag’s Alibi Man is one of the ones Donald Maass touted in his The Fire in Fiction as an example of how to soften a “larger than life” character. Elena Estes, Hoag’s tough-lady hero, is human and vulnerable, and Hoag shows us this by having her admit to a mistake, take the blame, appear heartbroken and wounded.
Okay, I got the point not long after starting the book. In fact, I didn’t have to read any of it to figure that out because that’s what all tough-lady authors do to soften their tough-lady heros. And now that I got the point, I see little reason to finish the book. Elena Estes follows the pattern of every other tough hero out there. And it’s old. What’s older is that a tough guy/girl can’t be tough in a secular book without the filthiest possible mouth.
Not all the books I’ve read in my quest to go through the Maass examples have had the kind of constant bombardment of language as this one has. I threw one away, simply tossed it out because even though the language wasn’t that bad, the subject matter was sick–something I would’ve realized had I read the back cover copy before buying it. But I was in a hurry, and the book was on my list. I grabbed it and ran. And threw the book away before finishing the first chapter.
I’m afraid Hoag’s book landed in the same place as the other.
I got spoiled. I’ve discovered Dekker, Blackstock, and Peretti. I’ve found that bad guys can be just as terrifying without foul language, tough guys can be just as tough, and plots can be just as tense without full detailed description of the vile things humans can imagine to do to one another.
Do you want to soften a “larger than life” character? Put him in the same situation as these others, and instead of sending him on a drinking binge or a free-for-all sex night, send him to find refuge in church. Let him find comfort in the arms of his wife, a loving, Christ-fearing woman. Illustrate his fight to cling to a God who allows these things to happen. That’s different. That’s vulnerability. A man or woman superhero who goes out every day and sees what man can do to man and still believe in goodness somewhere out there is not a cookie-cutter superhero.
I’m still going to plug along through Maass’s book list because I’ve read some truly terrific stories on it, and I’ll continue to read some of my favorite secular authors, and delve into some of the classics I’ve neglected for so long. But I think I’ll up my quota of Christian novels too. I got spoiled.