Book Review: The Face of the Earth

When Does A Spouse Move On?

A friend once told me of an elderly gent who visited his wife everyday in the nursing home. She had advanced Alzheimer’s and wasn’t responding to anyone at all anymore.
Finally someone there asked him, “Why do you still come and sit with her every day? She doesn’t even know who you are?”
The old man relied, “But I still know who she is.”

At what point, if ever, are you released from your marriage commitment when the one you made them to is absent, either literally or mentally? For some people a marriage is simply an agreement “for as long as we feel like it.” A Christian, however, promises “before God and these witnesses…to be faithful…for as long as you both shall live.” Are there circumstances where God releases a spouse from that promise?

I just finished this amazing story where the author sets up this scenario and demonstrates a sensible, faith-based response to the question. I really admire the scruples of the characters in this book! While these are people who embrace Christian principles and seek direction through prayer, I’d recommend this book to anyone.

The Face of the Earth

© 2017 by Deborah Raney
(First published in 2013 under the same name by Howard Books/Simon & Schuster.)

Friday, Sept 3rd:
Principal Mitchell Brannon pauses on his way home from work to call his wife Jill, a third-grade teacher who’s driving home from a personal development conference in Kansas City. He’s happy he persuaded her to go, now they’re planning a relaxing evening at home. They’d just delivered their second child to University and are starting their new life as empty nesters. Jill has been feeling blue about this change, but Mitch is rather looking forward to being “just the two of us” again.

He gets her voice-mail, so he leaves a message: “Just wondering where you are. Give me a call so I know when to put on the steaks.” She hasn’t arrived yet when he gets home, but she’s left him a message on their house phone at 1pm saying she’s leaving the hotel and should be home by six at the latest. She sounds upbeat, ready to be home.

Mitch fires up the grill at 6pm and takes out the steaks. Calls and gets her voice-mail again. That’s odd. At 7:30 he shuts off the grill, calls the hotel, verifies her leaving time, checks the weather to see if there’ve been any storms along her way. At 8pm he stops pacing the floor to call her best friend, Shelley Austin, a divorcee who lived next door. Shelley hadn’t heard a peep from Jill that day. By 9 pm he’s calling everyone who might possibly have heard from her.

Mitch calls Highway Patrol. No reported accidents. And they seemed reluctant to get involved — after all, she may have chosen to not come home. Mitch doesn’t buy that; he knows he and Jill have a good marriage. She’d never worry him like this. Has she been in an accident? Shelley comes over to help Mitch in his search, calling all the hospitals in KC and along Jill’s route home. The next morning they head out and drive the route she’d have traveled, hoping to find some clue.

Saturday Sept 4th :
Highway Patrol officers pay a visit. They have no news, but bombard Mitch with questions. Is she choosing to stay away? Did she seem depressed? Had they quarreled? Can anyone verify where he was during those hours when his wife went missing? Obvious insinuations.

Mitch & Jill’s son and daughter come home from University and join in the waiting, the rushing to the phone. Always hoping. There must be some reason… Then Jill’s cell phone is discovered on the floor in the parking garage.

Mitch and Shelley are two vulnerable human beings thrown together in a time of high emotions time and you know the connection is sometime going to produce sparks. Shelley’s trying to not betray her friend. Mitch intends to be faithful to his wedding vows and keep hoping, “Til death do you part.” Eventually, though, he wonders: at what point are you released from those vows when the one with whom you made them has vanished from the face of the earth — and may never return?

This story is masterfully written and played out in a totally realistic way. You ride along with these people on their roller coaster of hope and despair, feeling with them through their painful vigil, the nightmares, the (finally tiresome) expressions of sympathy, the flashes of hope when some new detail is uncovered, the suspicion, the gossip. I appreciate that Mitch respects the Bible admonition to “avoid all appearance of evil” even though he needs Shelley’s help and support.

Cautionary Note:
Don’t start this book after 9 pm unless you can afford to be up half the night. It’s very hard to put down.

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