Every Waking Moment, by Chris Fabry
[Note: This book was provided for free by Tyndale Publishing in exchange for an honest review.]
As a book reviewer (and as a person in general), I try to keep a certain sense of emotional distance from what I write about for my own reasons. Now, those who know me well, or are at least sensitive readers of what I write, will recognize that the topics I choose to write about (often over and over again) are not in the least accidental, but generally what appears on the pages of this blog and in the conversations of my life are the outward and intellectual manifestations of much deeper and darker matters. The still waters of my streams run deeply and sometimes unpredictably, a vivid emotional life that for me cannot be hidden, even if it often appears in very restrained form. Before I begin a somewhat lengthy review of this book (for a short one will not do this book justice, or explain what reaction I had to the book and why), I would like to begin with a warning as well as a plea: this is a book full of deep sorrow but also deep faith, and that should probably not be read where there is a problem with large amounts of weeping, as well as a plea that some Christian filmmaker turn this into a movie, even if it is likely to be as melodramatic as “Facing The Giants.”
There are some things that it is best not to say. For example, an explanation of the title comes at the end of the book, and it would not be fair to explain where the title comes from and what exactly it signifies, except to say that it involves the central themes of this book: the longing for love in every human heart, the search for forgiveness and redemption, the problems of emotional distance and isolation, and the quest for truth at any cost that drive the plot of this novel and that drive a great deal of my own life (and no doubt the lives of many others as well). Although it might not seem that a novel which begins at a retirement community where a seeming idiot savant with a tender and compassionate heart (who officially serves as a janitor but who serves as an unofficial bridge between the isolated mental world of dementia patients and other similarly afflicted souls and the often uncaring outside world) and a variety of other people go about their daily lives trying to cope with the inevitability of age and decrepitude or struggle with having enough to make it through the day and wrestling with the problems of human relationships, the plot thickens and becomes a much larger affair as the lives of a variety of people connect in dramatic and unexpected ways that also deal with strong biblical themes  and some of the darker elements of our contemporary society, including our reliance on drugs and our fears and perhaps even guilt about the fate of the elderly and other forgotten people who have fallen through the cracks.
At its heart, this novel is a character-driven novel, as the plot is driven basically by characters who have chosen both to wrestle for contentedness about the way life is as well as work to make the best of life and, if possible, make amends for their past mistakes. At the center of this novel is a riddle wrapped in an enigma, a young woman named Treha, a young woman who has lived a meager and difficult life and who tries to reconstruct her own past (only accessible in fragments provided by traumatic nightmares), who has a rare gift at calling those slipping into dementia and related conditions into brief but powerful moments of clarity where they are able to speak of their thoughts and feelings and impressions. Though officially a janitor, she is an unofficial counselor viewed kindly by the loving chief of the retirement home where she works, but who has been forced into retirement and replaced by a cold and unfeeling woman who rapidly makes changes by firing the young woman and making life more regimented and less humane at the retirement community. Though she is an enigma, emotionally remote but full of deep compassion and being apparently fragile and damaged but full of a great deal of strength of purpose and a quietly stubborn will, I could relate to her very well, not only for the intelligence and struggle with expressing emotional matters while feeling deeply, but even for little details like eyes that dart around or tend to stare intensely (but not threateningly), or even the little quirk that Treha writes left-handed with her pen between the third and fourth fingers, steadied by her thumb, which is how I tend to write as well or that she is intensely drawn to novels about virtuous orphans .
Nor is Treha the only character who is richly drawn. It is striking that the characters that are drawn the most vividly are those whose hearts are fairly open, whether it is the tender but restrained Treha herself, or her chatty young neighbor with a French name who keeps her company (and whose mother is a wise and sympathetic woman who in the course of the novel has to deal with the death of her estranged husband in Afghanistan), or the idealistic filmmaker Devon whose initially unpaid documentary work ends up being much larger than he originally could have conceived, or to the kindhearted and somewhat frustrated director who longs to make a difference in the lives of others but who has her own frustrated longings for children that were never fulfilled and a husband obsessed with the stock market and Fox News and conservative talk radio hosts whom she feels she cannot connect with, or even an elderly doctor whose attempts to right a previous wrong in doing unethical and dangerous drug testing on a pregnant woman who had suffered serious abuse and was nearly destroyed by the resulting depression giving up her daughter for a blind adoption set the entire complicated plot in motion and connect all of the threads of this novel together. Through it all hang the omnipresent threat of death and loss, the longing for being whole and not being thought of as a freak or as unimportant and unwanted, and the desires for truth and justice and freedom from the shackles of fear and oppression that compel us to live bravely even in the face of tremendous danger to themselves.
This is tremendously emotional work, all the more so because it was so personal to the author , whose experiences wrestling with the dangers of toxic mold to his own children (a threat that I too have faced at least a couple of times in my own life) and the damages that result from such exposure led him to create a memorable character and place in her great gifts as well as immense liabilities and intense longings for belongingness and love that serve as an inspiration to everyone she meets in what turns a variety of seemingly wasted lives into immense works of beauty, both the documentary story-within-a-story as well as the powerful novel itself. The combination of hope and beauty and love as well as the dark and melancholy undercurrents of death and suffering that fill this novel are a powerful and volatile mixture of emotions that speak strongly to our own times and situations. Many readers will like myself read this novel with eyes flowing with tears, not only for the characters in their often mute longing and embattled dignity, but for ourselves, for we are not so different from the often forgotten people who have fallen through the cracks that inhabit this novel, a novel whose intellectual puzzles, dark and resonant themes, and passionate and sensitive heart combine in an ultimately redemptive but also immensely disturbing story that deserves wide readership and acclaim and thoughtful reflection on what it says about ourselves and our world.