"To Dance In The Desert"

To Dance In The Desert by Kathleen Popa

The cover shows a dancing woman's silhouette against the sunset bronze of the desert. That, and the title, convinced me to give this novel a try, in spite of my dislike for the genre in general. I've read too much badly written Christian fiction with it's overused melodrama and endless stereotypes and just can't bring myself to read any more. The cover on this one appealed to me though. The woman holds a scarf or shawl in her outstretched arms that is catching the wind and billowing out behind her, suggesting a freedom, an uninhibitedness that was hard to resist, so, I read the book.

It wasn't bad. It was certainly an improvement over some of what I've read in the past, particularly the Christian fiction that's been written specifically for women. I don't know if the quality of the genre has improved over the past few years or if I just happened to stumble upon one of the better authours. Either way it was a relief to find it a pleasant book to read.

The first few paragraphs are interesting enough to draw the reader in, although I stumbled over part of a description in the opening line. The main character is describing a woman standing on a bluff: "...her arms stretched to the horizons, her face dry as sandstone, her silver hair blowing...". "Her face dry as sandstone"? The character watching is doing so from a distance and probably can't see her face. Maybe it's saying the woman resembles a statue carved from the cliffs, but isn't that in direct contrast to the other image being painted, an image of movement with a woman dancing and the wind blowing? I know it's a small thing, I just found it odd.

Popa has developed a story line that is fresh and original, and that held my attention well enough to keep me turning the pages. There were a couple of situations that I thought were a bit far fetched but on the whole the actions and back stories of the main characters were credible. I found the characters to be fairly well written on the whole, but among the secondary characters there were a few well worn cliches. There was the stereotypical legalist preacher, a predictable rugged cowboy type and a few others. The two main characters were the most believable, both fairly well rounded, both complex enough to be interesting.  

The dialogue was also better than I would have expected, with a natural feel, easy to read. I usually find myself frustrated and rolling my eyes over the unnatural dialogue in some Christian fiction but not so much in this one, although there was a poem written by the cowboy and read at a party that was so embarrassingly corny it was hard to read it all the way through.

A lot of 'women's' novels  (in my admittedly somewhat cynical viewpoint) have nice, neat impossibly happy endings for everyone involved, but this one is thankfully a little more realistic, with the main character aware of the uncertainties of the future and facing it with her eyes open. I liked that the authour gave her doubts and let her express them; it's so much more realistic than everyone living happily ever after.

The goal of this story, I think, is to tell women that there is hope, that there can be healing, no matter what awful thing life has thrown at you. And I think the authour succeeded in doing that. I'd recommend it to women who enjoy Christian fiction, particularly anyone in need of encouragement or reassurance. It's a solid story, fairly well written if a little predictable at times. But it's also realistic enough to make you stop and re-think your own attitudes toward life and that's always a good thing.


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