Derald Hamilton’s The Call combines satire, humor, and spoof in this unpredictable fictional account of seminary training and the broad spectrum of individuals who have responded to the “call to ministry.” The story is presented in the first person voice of Ishmael O’Donnell. His childhood is beleaguered by the strict disciplines administered by his military father and his religious mother who accepts as her “lot” subjection to an unfaithful husband. Added to Ishmael’s dysfunctional childhood is the unexplainable supernatural indwelling or possession of the “spirit” of his long-dead twin brother Isaac.
Hamilton understands the importance of audience to the success of satire. He writes for a wide audience covering a time span of over 30 years directly impacting the veterans and families of three wars or military conflicts who will relate to the account of Ishmael’s coming of age in the transient lifestyle of military families, the diversity of political views of U. S. involvement in these intervention actions, and the extremes of disciplines and control exercised by his military father. Another audience that will be touched by Hamilton’s observations is made up of anyone concerned about illusion versus reality in organized religion.
As Ishmael grapples with the his family’s dysfunction and the harassment of Isaac’s spirit, Hamilton focuses on another potential audience as he parodies the religious neuroses plaguing Ishmael by the inconsistency of forced church attendance by his father and the genuine religious zeal of his mother. Participation with Campus Para church ministries while attending University leads to Ishmael’s “call” to attend seminary as a means to find life fulfillment and spiritual cleansing.
Part Two of the novel deals with the three years of Ishmael’s seminary training. He is frustrated by the inconsistencies and the church politics often practiced within the established church, issues of integrity, and conduct behind the cloistered walls of the seminary. The illusions and reality of Hamilton’s observations open the door for his articulate tongue-in-cheek satiric exposition. Hamilton has cleverly recreated believable characters into caricatures which disconcertingly uncover fraudulence, impertinence, personal inconsistencies, character flaws, prejudices, and biases often found in the Christian community. Neither liberal, conservative, charismatic, nor ultra-fundamental escape his invective.
I became deeply involved in Hamilton’s storyline and characters. A composite development of fewer characters and a merging of the curriculum, training, and field assignments into typical content rather than detailed descriptions of the repetitive progression of each individual year of the program would have enhanced the flow and pace of the book for me.
The Call offers brilliant writing that is reflective, funny and provocative – a troubling look at the duplicity of influential leadership in today’s culture.
(Reviewed by Richard R. Blake for Reader Views)