If you're not interested in publishing or Christianity, you may not be aware of William P. Young's wildly successful inspirational novel The Shack. On a marketing budget of exactly zero, this book — about a man who visits the spot of his daughter's murder and finds God — is now common course material for Christians across the U.S. With that big an audience, you have to wonder about the message the book contains. I read it so you don't have to.The 248 page novel was written for William P. Young's close family, and after having no luck selling the manuscript to agents, he and a few friends self-published last summer. That was a good idea, because the book started gaining a cult audience almost immediately. Now it's a staple of most Christian communities, the subject of a film adaptation, and can safely be described as a phenomenon. Crossing Richard Matheson's What Dreams May Come with standard inspirational fare like Way of the Peaceful Warrior and Sophie's World, The Shack is written briskly and intelligently for a novel of this kind.

While he's saving two of his children from drowning, sedate Mack loses track of his daughter Missy, who is subsequently abducted and murdered by a serial killer within a matter of days. Suffering from what he calls 'The Great Sadness', Mack gets a note from God and heads out with a cooler and a shotgun to where his daughter was raped and murdered , not sure what is waiting for him. Not to spoil anything, but God is waiting for him, in the persona of a black woman named Papa, an Asian woman, and a Middle Eastern man:

He then glanced past her and noticed that a third person had emerged from the cabin, this one a man. He appeared Middle Eastern and was dressed like a laborer, complete with tool belt and gloves. He stood easily, leaning against the door jamb with arms crossed in front of him, wearing jeans covered in wood dust and a plaid shirt with sleeves rolled just above the elbows, revealing well muscled forearms.

So yeah, Jesus was looking pretty good. Not to be outdone, the black female God's never far away at The Shack, and she knows how to get down and flirt when necessary:

Papa was working on something with her back to him, flour flying as she swayed to the music of whatever she was listening to. The song obviously came to an end, marked by a couple of last shoulder and hip shakes. He inquired, "May I ask what you're listening to?" "West Coast Juice. Group called Diatribe and an album that isn't even out yet called Heart Trips. Actually," she winked at Mack, "these kids haven't even been born yet." "So God listens to funk?" Mack had never heard "funk" talked about in any properly righteous terms. "I thought you would be listening to George Beverly Shea or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir – you know, something churchier." "Now see here, Mackenzie. You don't have to be lookin' out for me. I listen to everything – and not just to the music itself, but the hearts behind it. Don't you remember your seminary classes? These kids aren't saying anything I haven't heard before; they're just full of vinegar and fizz. Lots of anger and, I must say, with some good reason too. They're just some of my kids, showin' and spoutin' off. I am especially fond of these boys, you know. Yup, I'll be keeping my eye on them."

Pitchfork immediately gave this not-yet-released album a 2.9 rating.

After a pep-talk from God about how she is in his corner, the novel does take a slight risk in addressing the institution of religion and church. While never not stressing the importance of the institution, the book does have some New Agey-type ideas about Young's interpretation of Christianity, and he's had a little backlash on that account from strict believers:

Actually the controversy has been fairly minimal...just vocal. Western believers have a difficult time with fiction in general. Eastern traditions (Christian traditions) are much more open to icons and images. I think there are as many reasons why the story stirs up folks as there are motives of the heart. I am sure some are feeling the need to protect and defend God and that is their identity in part, some are nervous about their power in the lives of others, some are just fearful...lots of reasons.

Is The Shack bad for people to be reading? Not in the least. While it doesn't entirely resist racial stereotypes in its colorful depiction of the Holy Trinity, this is a white guy's book, that was gonna happen. Angry Christian Analysis of The Shack [Challies.com]