Schaap, a professor of English at Dordt College in Iowa, has written two previous novels intended for Christian readers, and both were awarded prizes by the Christian press. Once limited to prairie romances and allegorical knockoffs of C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien, Christian writers have begun experimenting with other forms, like the coming-of-age novel Schaap offers here in the recollections of Lowell Prins.
Prins, the son of a small town minister, promises to tells us a story that has shaped his life. "What happened there years ago," he solemnly tells us, "I will never forget." Schaap then keeps us hanging on until the last thirty pages of the book, as the adolescent Prins wanders from one crisis to another before revealing the unforgettable scene. Even then, the adult Prins has a way of intruding on his adolescent self's payoff with a narrative-arresting asides. "Just for a second she looked at me," Schaap writes, in the middle of a torrent of unfolding events. "In a way I'll never forget, in a way my memory has preserved and maybe even exaggerated over the years-but in a way I later came to believe was something of the approval she didn't get from my grandfather, the warrant the old preacher wouldn't give her, even though the two of us-me and grandpa-finally and surely agreed at that moment on the state of Cyril's soul." After that summation, we're returned to the impending tragedy, but by this time the reader has wandered off for a cup of tea.
It's not just the ending, either. Most of "Romey's Place" moves like the narration to a slide-show of someone's vacation. At every turn, the adult Lowell shows up to nail down the meaning of each event in stultifying detail. Caught smoking, young Lowell is confronted by a distraught father and weeping mother: "I was just a kid," Lowell Prins says, "almost less than that, a child-but for years that bedroom moment has taught me all I need to know about the tenacity of the human will, the instinct to protect oneself at all costs, even if it means lying some more." There's nothing wrong with drawing a moral from your story, but Schaap is so busy telling us what to think of these scenes that we're never permitted to experience them.