This highly personal narrative produces many spiritual insights.
Michael Simmons’s The Blue House is a memoir that emphasizes the religious dimensions of the author’s experiences. Simmons, a Christian, came to his faith early in life, when he lived with his mother, siblings, and an alcoholic father. The first part of the book concerns both his burgeoning faith and his father, who dominates most of the narrative.
As Simmons’s father drinks and acts out, he loses one job after another, so that the family must move repeatedly. His behavior is erratic and even at times dangerous; late in the memoir, he threatens the family with a murder-suicide.
Simmons’s father’s presence is the book’s most harrowing aspect, one that consistently leads him back to discussions of faith. He credits an elderly neighbor in Arkansas with his early spiritual inspiration, and describes looking to his faith in an effort to understand the misfortunes that befell his family. Many of the memoir’s events are accompanied by Bible verses.
Every other chapter consists of a non-narrative analysis of Simmons’s story. The analyses offer spiritual insights that are based on the previous chapter’s contents, including pertinent Bible verses. These interjections also contain questions for contemplation or discussion, often with references to biblical passages that relate to the story Simmons tells.
The questions in the analysis chapters are not always closely related to Simmons’s narrative, at times causing these interruptions to seem like distractions from the story. He describes, in one chapter, finding solitude at a fishing spot where he has an easier time meditating on his faith than elsewhere. The follow-up analysis poses the question, “Do your prayers consist of lists for God or of listening to God?” It is not an entirely impertinent question, but it does not directly follow from the contents of the prior chapter.
Still, the goal of The Blue House is not so much for Simmons to tell his story as it is for him to prompt religious contemplation, and to carry on the sort of missionary work that he has high praise for. Although Simmons’s narrative is compelling, the impression is that it is there not for its own sake, but rather in order to illuminate his religious beliefs.
Simmons tells his story with compassion even for those who have challenged and endangered him. It is a highly personal narrative with many spiritual insights.
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