Lynn Austin. Waves of Mercy. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2016. See here to buy the book.
Waves of Mercy is set in the nineteenth century. Anna Nicholson is a young woman from Chicago, and she is staying at Hotel Ottawa in Holland, Michigan to recuperate after a fight with her fiance, William. Anna was adopted at a very young age, and her adopted parents have a high social status. Anna’s adopted father wants Anna to marry William because William is wealthy and can save his family from financial disaster. But William is controlling, and he does not like Anna attending the church where renowned evangelist D.L. Moody preaches.
In Holland, Michigan, a young man named Derk works at the Hotel where Anna is staying. Derk is Dutch, as are many people in Holland Michigan, since, years before, Dutch Christians settled there in pursuit of religious freedom. Derk has an “aunt,” Geesje. Geesje is not literally Derk’s aunt, but Geesje was a loving presence in Derk’s life after Derk lost his mother. Geesje was among the first Dutch settlers of Holland, Michigan, and she has a story of her own, which she is writing down for the town’s semi-centennial anniversary.
The book alternates between Anna’s story and Geesje’s story. Geesje talks about what is occurring in the present, but she also shares her past story. Geesje’s story includes her falling in love with a soldier, her marrying a devout Christian whom she did not love when she thought the soldier was dead, her travails as her sons fought in the American Civil War, and her struggle with her headstrong, independent daughter, Christine.
Derk meets Anna, thinking at first that she is a cousin, and they talk. They share their struggles with each other, and Derk feels that Anna would benefit from talking with Geesje, a devout Christian. Meanwhile, Anna wonders about the identity of her real parents.
The book has several positives. First of all, the book clearly marked where Anna and Geesje were telling their stories. A lot of Christian fiction novels do not mark when different characters are narrating, believe it or not, and that can get pretty annoying! Second, the book did not end predictably. There was one element of the plot that I saw coming a mile away, but the actual ending of the book did not attempt to pander to readers. The main characters did not get everything that they wanted. But, come to think of it, that actually accords with the rest of the book, for Geesje did not always get what she wanted, either!
Third, the book had edifying spiritual and religious themes. Like other Lynn Austin books that I have read, this book, too, tries to deal with the question of why God allows suffering. And this book raises the same points that other Lynn Austin books do: that we cannot manipulate God with our prayers, that God’s ways are higher than our ways, etc. This book, however, included a slightly different twist. When Geesje was a young woman, people with problems came to Geesje because they knew she was angry with God, and people were tired of hearing the same old pat answers and thus respected her honesty. God used Geesje even when she was angry with God. In addition, Geesje talked about how God was upset with death, too, since death was not part of God’s original design. In reading other Lynn Austin novels, I wondered how, or if, the various solutions or answers to the problem of evil held together. They held together a little better in Waves of Mercy, for the picture that I get is that God is not entirely satisfied with the world as it is, but God temporarily permits it to be that way for God’s purposes, even as God shows people God’s love.
Fourth, the book has strong characterization and well-executed scenes, as do many Lynn Austin novels. Anna’s mother was somewhat of a snob, but she loved Anna, she donated to charity, and she enjoyed being with her friends. William had his flaws, but he eventually shared with Anna why he was suspicious of certain churches. Fifth, the appendix of the book is noteworthy because Lynn Austin shares there what aspects of her book are historically-accurate, and where she used poetic license. She also ties the book’s setting to her own life by sharing that she attended Hope College, which is in Holland, Michigan.
My criticisms are minor, and they particularly concern Austin’s depiction of D.L. Moody and R.L. Torrey. She presents them as preaching a “God loves you and has a plan for your life” sort of message (my paraphrase). She occasionally mentions repentance and being born again in describing their message, but the “God loves you and has a plan for your life” message looms larger in her characterization. Meanwhile, the high church that Anna’s family ordinarily attends focuses on obeying God’s laws. These characterizations do not sound entirely correct, even if there may be something to them. Moody and Torrey believed in God’s love and providence, but they also talked about themes such as hell, which does not give people a warm and fuzzy feeling.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest.