This novel is what happens when a fine writer’s sensibilities are informed by a Christian world view.

New york publishers have given readers little reason to expect regeneration through Christ in their novels. But that is just what the reader finds in Farrar, Straus and Giroux’s recent Poppa John. Its author, Larry Woiwode, is no newcomer to New York publishing: his stories have appeared in the New Yorker, and his first novel, What I’m Going to Do, I Think (FS&G, 1969), won the William Faulkner Foundation Award.

His second novel, Beyond the Bedroom Wall (FS&G, 1975), was also critically acclaimed. Subtitled “A Family Album,” it chronicles four generations of North Dakotans, beginning with Otto Neumiller, a German immigrant, and his son Charles, a carpenter who comes to make his father’s coffin. The narrative moves on to Charles’s son Martin and his wife, Alpha, whose early death stems partly from being uprooted from North Dakota. As their children grow up, the family drifts away from the strength-giving center of their life in the Midwest.

Woiwode tells the story with such richly textured and unhurried details that the reader recalls events as if they were his own memories. The book established its author as an uncommonly intelligent and skilled writer. Then Woiwode came to faith in Christ.

What happens when a fine writer’s sensibilities are informed by a Christian world view? Poppa John is a first indication. Where Beyond the Bedroom Wall was an often beautiful, largely loving story, Poppa John is as cold and unrelenting as the December snow of the story’s setting. For a dozen years, Ned Daley, now nearly 70, played Poppa John on a popular television soap opera, a character who acted as confessor and counselor. Appropriating ...

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