A View of Heaven

Nov 22, 2010 • Books, Culture, Faith

I’m not normally one for novels: I know enough make-believe people without having to meet them in the fiction shelves. But when I heard about Kimberly Cain’s Heaven, a novel about a theology-talking stripper, I was intrigued.

Heaven is a novel with pacing like a Dan Brown novel: the book’s many short chapters are shot through with scenes where the action stops and people have long conversations on interesting topics.

In Heaven, those topics are on sexuality and spirituality. The spirituality is of a predominantly Christian sort, but it’s the kind of Christian spirituality found among the refugee camps of those disaffected souls who chafed on the boundaries of their parents’ church.

Yet many of the ideas espoused in the book are fairly familiar to theologians despite being foreign to American Neo-Puritanism. For example, the primary metaphor of the book — stripping as a spiritual act of surrender, vulnerability, and transparency, and sexuality as intimacy — is theologically right in line with traditional understandings of the Song of Songs, that book of erotic poetry in the Bible.

When the Christian church was less than three hundred years old, one of the earliest Christian commentators (named Origen) explored the Song of Songs as an allegory for the relationship of the seeker’s soul and Christ. Sexuality thereby became a key allegorical symbol for the way in which you accept Christ into you. This symbol surfaces in mystics like Julian of Norwich and continues to influence mystics even to the present day. Using stripping as an allegory for tempting people towards the Divine seems to be a natural extension of that tradition, and Kimberly Cain lays out a story that really makes sense of that allegory and shows much of its beauty.

That said, the book was at times a bit hard to relate to. It became easier once I realized that the main character — Eve — is intended to be archetypal: in many scenes, she seemed more angel than human, and once you realize that’s what the point is, you read the book a slightly different way. There were also cases when I felt like the book was targeting a different audience: this is especially true of those scenes that rejoiced in affirming feminine sexuality. Having been indoctrinated as a child with the “male” set of sexual neuroses instead of the “female” set, those scenes didn’t manage to land.

All in all, the book was pretty good. And coming from me, “pretty good” is pretty high praise for a novel. It’s a relatively easy read, playful in parts and dense in others. It is obviously an authentic book: unlike the Dan Brown novels, there is an air of truth and sincerity in the conversations and actions of the characters. It was nice to end the summer with that book, and it’d work well as an escape when surrounded by a family gathering. The book also comes with a CD in the back which has some solid up-beat, base-heavy songs, just in line with the theme. You can pick it up at HeavenTheNovel.com.