A missionary family returns from serving in Papua New Guinea, battle weary and wounded. The strength of the enemy’s strongholds amongst the tribal people there has led Jim and Stephanie Miller to doubt the goodness and very presence of God. Stephanie begins to suffer from disturbing dreams, visions, nightmares, and sleep walking – possibly triggered by events on the mission field – that serve only to drive a deep wedge between her and her husband.
Retreating to an immense lodge remotely located in North Carolina, the Millers hope to draw closer to one another and re-establish their spiritual standing. However, this enormous home with locked wings, secret doors, hidden passages and rooms, seems to facilitate further distance between Jim, Stephanie, and their children Zachary and Ashley. This strange and new temporary dwelling place draws Stephanie deeper into her apparent madness while dredging up deep, forgotten memories from her childhood. Withdrawing from each other and their maker, the Millers leave their family open to spiritual attack – when the enemy strikes out physically the results are horrifying.
The external circumstances the Miller family finds themselves in run parallel to the spiritual events in their lives. Having been separated from the world by a brutal snowstorm, so too have they become isolated from one another and from God. Their only hope is a return to the One who made them, as they strive to re-establish contact with the outside world the snow has cut them off from.
With Isolation multi-genre author Travis Thrasher turns his pen to horror, having written romance, drama and suspense novels in the past. While he acknowledges Stephen King as one of his literary heroes (many have drawn comparisons between Isolation and The Shining), Thrasher’s work is unique in its seamless weaving together of faith and fear, resulting in Christian horror – though I wasn’t sure how such a combination could possibly work. Isolation has shown me that a scary story can be made even more so through the incorporation of powerful spiritual truths.
Having left the horror genre relatively untouched throughout my reading career I cannot speak to any similarities between King’s work and Thrasher’s. I can say that Isolation terrified me; I simply cannot remember a time when any other book I’ve read has left my heart pounding so hard in my chest. The true beauty of this novel is that the scares don’t rely upon graphically depicted gore or violence but upon inferred events, shadows of meaning, and the horrific possibility that the scenario is entirely possible. I must applaud Thrasher for his ability to maintain the standards commonly associated with Christian fiction – clean language and avoidance of scenes of graphic violence or sexual acts – while still producing one scary ride.
Isolation develops a surprising degree of depth throughout the course of the novel, proving itself to be far more than a cheap thrill. Though Thrasher doesn’t consider himself a Christian novelist, Isolation’s plot is faith driven from start to finish. Jim and Stephanie’s struggles with their faith are authentic. Stephanie in particular is a vivid portrait of a wounded woman – flawed, floundering, and realistic, I deeply empathized with her. In addition to pairing these imperfect individuals with spiritual truths, Thrasher drives the fear home through the faith elements, contributing to the novel rather than detracting from it, or seeming tacked on. While there is light and hope to be found and an eventual end to the interminable isolation, there is a long dark night of the soul that must be passed through while the forces of light and darkness battle against each other.
I was advised not to read Isolation at night. Disregarding that excellent wisdom I found myself trembling in the dark as I paged through this novel as quickly as eyes, mind, and fingers can fly. The spiritual message will attract readers from outside of the thriller genre with the potential to speak wisdom into their lives, and through some mysterious synchronicity the fear will dig it in deeper. With Ghostwriter releasing in 2009 it seems that Thrasher won’t be leaving the domain of darkness anytime soon in his writing, a scary development indeed.