Anyone who asks me for a recommendation for good reading in the fiction category always gets the same response: Have you read Frank Schaeffer’s Portofino trilogy? Now, Frank has a new novel out, and it’s excellent too: And God Said, ‘Billy!’
First, a word about Frank’s earlier trilogy, featuring young Calvin Becker who comes of age in Christian funda-gelicalism. In Portofino, Frank combined a painfully accurate description of a young fundamentalist male coming of age with an acute love for a place. The writing was beautiful, and everyone who reads will want to visit Portofino – or feel that they have already done so. Then in Zermatt, the coming of age continues. Sexuality moves front and center, with Calvin obsessed with sex in a desperately exploratory way and his mom obsessed in an equally desperate inhibitory way. Cringes and laughter flow freely. Then in Saving Grandma, the comic overwhelms the tragic as an elderly skeptic (Grandma) becomes the unwitting savior of the adolescent quasi-fundamentalist.
It’s worth mentioning the Calvin Becker stories because in “And God Said, Billy,” Frank moves on from a coming-of-age story to a kind of full-blown adult story. Billy, the main character, is a passionately committed charis-funda-gelical adult – married, with a daughter. He’s a member in good standing of The Reformed Charismatic Full Gospel Word of Life Church. What he experiences isn’t the disjuncture of entry into adulthood, but the collapse of an adulthood built on a rather shaky foundation (Bible quotes notwithstanding).
Richard Rohr and I have both written of an important transition in adult spirituality – using different language to describe the same experience. Richard speaks of a transition from the first to the second half of life, and I’ve written about the transition from the early stages of simplicity and complexity to the later stages of perplexity and harmony. In And God Said, Billy!, Frank presents exactly such a transition – although “transition” sounds way too tame for the chaotic disintegration the poor fellow experiences.
What is remarkable about Frank’s new book, in addition to its downright hilarity, is the beauty with which he captures Billy’s emergence into second-half-of-life/harmony. Other characters – maybe counterparts to Grandma in Calvin Becker’s life – play a key role in the transition.
There aren’t many writers that repeatedly evoke from me the words beauty and hilarity – but Frank is one of them, and if that sounds intriguing, now you know the next book you need to pick up – And God Said, Billy!
A P.S. to Frank … if you’re thinking about another trilogy, how about 2 books that cover the same basic time period, but from the vantage point of Rebecca, Molly, Ruth, Pastor Bob, or maybe Igumen Tryphon? Just a thought …