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Friday, March 23, 2012

Thomas Hall Takes Inspirational Fiction In The Right Direction

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Renowned painter Thomas Hall is used to being chosen to work on all the most exciting and lucrative art projects in the San Francisco area and beyond. His skills are so desired that employers are willing—if not eager—to accept his demanding conditions, from
enormous paychecks to private work
spaces to his choice of snack foods. Thomas is so used to having things his way that he's never stopped to consider the fact that the constant pampering has turned him into a selfish, egotistical jerk. It's not his personality that matters to most people, after all, it's his painting.

At least that's what he thinks until he meets 27-year-old PR director Susan Cassidy. Thomas is accustomed to being approached by beautiful women, but this one isn't like the others. Cass isn't looking for a date, she's asking for a mural. And not just any mural. She's after something special to decorate the walls of the new children's wing at St. Mark's Hospital. The agnostic Thomas balks when Cass informs him that the piece needs to center around Jesus Christ. Already at work on a more prestigious mural—one that, ironically enough, celebrates Charles Darwin—Thomas dismisses Cass' offer.

When his life starts to fall apart and he's forced to accept the job he first rejected, Thomas finds himself standing in front of a blank wall trying to envision a mural based on a man whose existence he knows little about and believes in even less. Pushed up against an impossible deadline, Thomas needs to forget about his doubts and just paint. But, there's an injured little girl with an astounding amount of faith, a police officer with an impossible story and a PR rep who believes in everything Thomas doesn't. Encounters with each one of them changes the artist, making him wonder which is the biggest lie—Jesus Christ or Thomas Hall. As he wrestles with the mural, Thomas must reevaluate everything he knows, everything he believes, everything he is and find the courage to accept the truth, however disastrous it may be.

I've mentioned before—probably a few times—that inspirational fiction is really not my thing. I'm not opposed to pick-me-up type novels, I just want them to go easier on the sap and heavier on the substance, if you know what I mean. The Evolution of Thomas Hall by Academy Award-winning filmmakerKieth Merrill does this better than any of the other titles it's up against in theWhitney Award competition. Which isn't to say it's perfect. It's not. At 454 pages, the novel's laborious, both overwritten and under-edited. Plus, it features a character who's just not all that likable—even after he "evolves." Still, the book's more readable than I thought it would be, probably thanks to short chapters and enough action to keep the plot moving along (if not swiftly). Although I didn't love it, I found The Evolution of Thomas Hall thought-provoking and uplifting, a book that's faith-promoting but not as cloyingly preachy as other books of its type.

Readalikes: Hm, I can't really think of anything. Can you?)

Grade: B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language (no F-bombs), sexual innuendo and references to illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love: I received a copy of The Evolution of Thomas Hall from the generous folks at Shadow Mountain. Thank you!

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