The few breaks I’ve taken this summer from reading my way through Colleen McCullough’s immense Masters of Rome series (to be reviewed at summer’s end!) have mostly been to pick up a few lighter novels published by Christian presses for some Sabbath reading. I write for a Christian publisher myself, and I have a Christian romance that I’m hoping to find a publisher for, so I sometimes write this sort of thing off as market research. And, sadly, much of it confirms my belief that a lot of what’s published as “Christian fiction” is not only not literary — I don’t really expect that — but that it doesn’t even meet the standards of good commercial fiction. Far too many of the novels that come from Christian presses (or Christian imprints of mainstream presses) are second-rate genre fiction, formulaic, with clumsy writing, poorly developed characters and flimsy plots.
OK, now that I”ve got THAT off my chest — I really liked Lisa Samson’s Club Sandwich. This is on a par with bestselling commercial women’s fiction — there’s a richness and depth to the story and characters, and a level of style and skill to the writing, that’s all too often absent from the products of Christian presses. I would be happy to pick up another Lisa Samson book and read more of her work.
Club Sandwich is the story of Ivy Schneider and her mid-life, mid-marriage crisis. Ivy takes what seems to be an unnecessary amount of time at the beginning of the book to tell us what a right-wing, conservative, evangelical Republican American Christian she is, which naturally put me off a little (although she got me when she said on page 6, “I am who I am, and if you can’t read about somebody who thinks different than you, you’re not the liberal you think,” which was the point at which Lisa Samson earned my respect and piqued my interest). This introduction doesn’t seem to have much to do with the rest of her story, which is that of a woman caught between the demands of her aging parents, her growing children, her absent husband’s musical career on the road, and an attentive old flame who suddenly reappears to complicate things.
This book is funny, sweet, wry, and willing to let life be a bit more complicated than most Christian fiction will allow. The ending still ties up more loose ends than I thought needed to be tied, and there were characters and situations I wanted to know more about that weren’t as fully developed as I’d have wished, but in general this was an enjoyable read that kept me turning pages, didn’t irritate me at all, and even touched me a little. I should be so lucky every time I pick up something from the Christian fiction section.