“Maybe there are no gods at all.”
In her new novella Church, author Renee Miller fully commits to urgent plot development. She demonstrates obvious attentiveness to the impact of each scene’s beats and shifts, while also keeping constant sight of her overall narrative design. At under 200 pages, the book focuses always on energy and movement, and it’s all the better for it.
There’s an overarching plot about a religious cult’s psychological strangle-hold on a young woman named Carol, and her Catholic boyfriend Ray’s attempts to wrestle her free. When it comes to the cult’s machinations, Miller trusts wisely in our post-Jonestown massacre knowledge and the ever-present residue of Satanic panic. She doesn’t over-explain, instead delving into the cult’s belief system only when absolutely necessary. The results are something like a whacked-out, grown-up version of Robin F. Brancato’s young adult novel Blinded by the Light (1978). I can dig that.
Maybe what’s most interesting about this book is its management and depiction of hierarchies, both physical and psycho-spiritual. Miller pits intrepid Christian protagonist Ray against badder-than-bad cult-master Darius in a swift and tightly plotted war, and the book never pauses unnecessarily to take in the scenery. There’s a scene near the end that finds the characters arguing about the nature of evil, and at this key moment Miller slyly subverts some of the previously established expectations about religion and morality.
This is most definitely the work of a knowledgeable and experienced thriller writer. Miller delivers completely on the genre’s promise of suspense, conflict and shock, writing in lean, speedy style. The book is impressively readable; producing something so damn digestible is no easy task, and for that reason I give Renee Miller major kudos. Church is worth your time.
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