Monday, May 9, 2011

Monday Mention: Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos

Itching for Christian fiction that is thoughtful, spiritual, well written, and… wait for it… fun? Good news! With Imaginary Jesus, author Matt Mikalatos proves you can have a blast, laugh, and enjoy skillful writing too, even as you ponder spiritual truth that makes you examine how you live and interact with God.

Sometimes, it seems as though Christian publishing settles for putting out things that are second best. This book review isn’t the place to debate why this is true… But I mention it here because for you to understand my review of Imaginary Jesus, you first have to know this: I don’t read Christian fiction much anymore.

I used to. Or at least I tried to. But as a writer and editor, I can be picky. I want good writing, strong characterization, and powerful plots that pull me along to unexpected yet satisfying endings. I find I get disappointed a lot by Christian fiction (see my review of The Heir for an example why:

But I wish I didn’t feel that way.

Which is where Imaginary Jesus comes in, and why I’m so excited about it. The premise of Imaginary Jesus is this: Matt is seemingly minding his own business, reading His Bible at a hip café in Portland, and being a Christian, when suddenly the unthinkable happens—his “Jesus” turns out to be an imposter! Suddenly, Matt has to get rid of the imposter if he wants to know the “real Jesus.” Which would be great…if only “Imaginary Jesus” hadn’t just taken off and fled into the streets of Portland. Now, Matt has to go in pursuit of the phony Jesus before he can find and connect with the real one.

What a unique, even kooky premise. Yet Imaginary Jesus challenged me like no other Christian fiction book has done in ages. It challenged me to look at my spiritual endeavors, my biases, my expectations… And it did so in a way that was thoroughly entertaining.

And it’s hilariously funny too. I actually laughed out loud throughout the entire first chapter, which is rare for me with any book, Christian or secular. Matt Mikalatos knows how to write satire. That’s where I’d like to file this book—under “Christian satire.” I think this might be the only book in that section of the shelves, but maybe if there were more, I’d read Christian fiction more often.

Anyway, satire is a highly effective way to get people to look at themselves and consider how they live. It works because a good satirist wields his words like a kindly scalpel, lancing the boils of society. The humor is the anesthesia, softening what could otherwise be a brutal blow to a reader’s delicate ego. Imaginary Jesus is very funny, even as it asks a potent spiritual question: Why do we try to make Jesus into who we want Him to be, instead of letting Him be who He is and adapting ourselves to Him?

That question is the crux of Imaginary Jesus, and it’s a powerful one. So is the answer, thought I can’t give it to you without spoiling the book. By approaching this topic in fiction—and funny fiction to boot—author Matt Mikalatos did something bold and beautiful. (If you read his blog, you find out Imaginary Jesus was originally a series of personal essays that his editor wisely suggested be transformed.)

The author’s personal journey is apparent in the genuineness of the struggle being faced by his alter ego character in the book. The conclusion is well done, believable, and cathartic. I look forward to reading more of Mikalatos’ work in the future.

In sum: All in all, it is well worth your time and your money to invest in reading Imaginary Jesus. It’s funny, thoughtful, moving…a great example of what Christian fiction could be if writers aim high enough. (Oh yeah, and you’ll finally learn who “Magic 8 Ball Jesus” is. But you’ll have to read the book to find out, because I’m not giving it away!)

For more about Matt Mikalatos and Imaginary Jesus, visit his blog:

Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.

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