If there’s a message in bestselling author Frank Peretti’s new book Illusion, it’s a thank-you card, he says, or maybe a love letter to his wife – as well as a celebration of marriage.
“It’s a tribute,” he says from his home in rural Idaho, “to my own relationship with my wife, Barbara. I’m 61 now and I’m looking back at 40 years of marriage. This book is an exploration of just what kind of people make that sort of commitment and enjoy the sort of devotion to stick together through thick and thin for four decades.”
With more than 15 million books in print, Peretti has been nothing short of a publishing phenomenon since the 1980s, His international bestsellers This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness were surprise hits by a tiny publishing company. But they were championed by evangelical icons of the day such as songwriter Michael W. Smith, whose “Ashton” on his platinum album “i2(Eye)” in 1988 alerted teens to the book, and Amy Grant, who during concert would just mention “a really great book I just read,” prompting a rash of sales.
Three of Peretti's bestsellers
Peretti could be called the father of modern Christian fiction with his 21 titles, including the The Oath and The Visitation – as well as a number of books and videos for kids. Unlike his early bestsellers, Illusion is not about spiritual warfare. In a departure from the good vs. evil plots for which he is famous, Peretti tells the story of a married, middle-aged couple of show-biz, Vaudeville-type illusionists.
In Illusions‘s 512 pages and 150,000 or so words, there’s no
heavy sermon. “It has a Christian message in it,” he says, “but I don’t spoon feed it to the reader. Those who have an ear will hear.”
Instead, it’s an allegory. “It’s written from a Christian world view. It’s more like C.S. Lewis did in the Narnia books. He didn’t have a blatant Christian message. But it was based on Christian imagery.
“Marriage is an institution of Almighty God and if I can glorify that and awaken people’s admiration for the joy and sanctity of marriage, then I have accomplished my purpose,” says the author. “Marriage is a beautiful thing and it’s worth working on. Marital devotion is certainly worthwhile. I’d be happy if readers just took that away with them.”
Some of Peretti's books and videos
Illusion tells the story of Dane and Mandy, a popular magic act for four decades who are tragically separated by a car wreck that claims Mandy’s life — or so everyone thinks.
Dane mourns and tries to rebuild his life without her, but Mandy, supposedly dead, awakes in the present as the 19-year-old she was in 1970. Distraught and disoriented in what to her is the future, she ends up in a mental ward until she discovers her newfound ability to move invisibly through time and space.
She uses her mysterious powers to eke out a living, performing illusions on the streets and in a funky coffee shop. Coincidentally, the grieving Dane wanders into the coffee shop and is astonished by her act. She does illusions that even he, a seasoned professional, cannot explain.
But more than anything, he is smitten by this teenager who has never met him, doesn’t know him and is certainly not in love with him. However, she is in every aspect identical to the woman of his dreams whom he first met and married some 40 years earlier. They begin a furtive relationship as mentor and protégée as Dane tries to sort out who she really is and she tries to understand why she is drawn to him.
Three youth novels
One wonders while flipping through the pages whether it is tough writing to evangelicals – Peretti’s biggest and most faithful audience. “It used to be a lot more strict than it is now,” he admits. “I may be
going out on a limb with this book because I am talking about love and marriage and reflecting on the beauty of marital life as a husband would.
“This book is very romantic. These characters are married. I had fun writing that within biblical parameters.”
However, there are risks, he admits.
“When you are writing for the Christian culture, there is a whole gamut of expectations. You have folks who are very sensitive about any mention of sex. They are very sensitive about language. And of course, depending on their denominational background, they may be looking for other things – such as an altar call in the middle of the book. There are a lot of folks who expect that to be in there.
Peretti enjoys writing for kids
“This book is not blatantly evangelical. When I first started out writing the Darkness books, there was, at least in my mind, a certain sort of rulebook we had to follow. However, Christian fiction has really progressed over all those years. There are folks exploring all kinds of things and really being a lot more honest about life.”
Not all of that has been good, he admits. “The last book I wrote with Ted Dekker was so violent, I kind of exceeded my saturation point. I couldn’t do that again. I said to myself, I can’t write any more books
that are going to go that far into guns and shooting and killing and all that stuff. I kind of turned the corner on that.”
Hence, he has penned a romance.
“This book has good guys and bad guys and danger and suspense,” says Peretti, “but very little violence. It’s more a book of the heart. The conflict is more inner. It is a character book. The main flow is what’s going on in their hearts and minds. That was fun. I really liked that. It becomes really intense emotionally writing a story like this.
“A good book or movie or screenplay should be emotionally satisfying. When they’re done, you want people to breathe a deep sigh and say ‘Wow.’”
Peretti and a fan at a book signing
But, he admits, he had a deeper purpose: “I wanted to write a story that reflects in an allegorical sort of way my love for Christ and my longing to be with Him. And how while we’re on this earth, we’re estranged from Him, particularly when we’re still lost in sin. Yet, there’s an inner longing in our heart to find out who we are and where we belong, which cannot be satisfied until we find out who we are in the Lord Jesus.
“We have a God who loves us. We are in the palm of his hand. He doesn’t leave us and He doesn’t forsake us.”
And so it is in a good marriage, says Peretti. “Look at most love stories. The typical love story is about two people who never met each other, who encounter each other and through various trials and often comical situations and misunderstandings finally come together. In the end, they kiss and he carries her away on his white horse and that’s the end of the story.”
But it’s really just the beginning.
“What is interesting about this love story,” says Peretti, “is that these are two people who have already been in love. They have been married for 40 years. And they are rediscovering their love all over again — two married people who have been lovers for four decades. And here is this whole experience of rediscovering it all over again.
“I just get a real big kick out of that twist. It gives me a whole new, fresh view of love with my wife!
“What a wonderful gal she’s been all this time!”