We first meet the main characters in Glimpses of Paradise, 17 year-old Doyle Lawrence (athlete and poet) and 16 year-old Zenobia (Zee) Miller (want-to-be movie star), in the spring of 1916 in Zenith, Nebraska. Doyle, fascinated by the unpredictable and colorful Zee, tells his brother later that evening that he’ll marry Zee someday despite what their lawyer father will say. For her part, though Zee senses his attraction, she wants only to be in the movies.
Their ways soon part. Doyle enlists in the army and goes off to war. Zee runs away from her straight-laced preacher father to chase her dream.
This historical tale by James Scott Bell (first published in 2005) explores many aspects of the years from 1916 to 1925—the war itself, the fate of returning soldiers, the rise of Hollywood’s popularity, and its seamy underside. Concurrent with these secular movements is a spiritual stream personified by the historical preacher R. A. Torrey (a preacher and Bible teacher who helped found Biola University). His sermons and writings play not a little part in determining Doyle’s and Zee’s fates.
I thoroughly enjoyed this substantial novel. I’ve read many of James Scott Bell’s books on the writing craft and it is interesting to see how he puts his advice into practice. His characters are complex and believable. His facility in describing action contrasts, in this book, with quiet moments like the one war-damaged Doyle experiences on returning home after combat:
“He found himself fixated on one brown leaf cloning to a branch. It looked stubborn, alone, like a solitary prayer unheard” – Kindle Location 1553.
What I appreciate most about this book, though, is its unequivocal Christian message, not only as explained by Dr. Torrey but lived out in the choices and destinies of his characters.
If you like fat, informative, and interesting Christian historicals, try this tome of Americana. It won’t disappoint.
Glimpses of Paradise is part of my own Kindle collection.
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