Men and women of all ages will warm to Cramer’s elegant prose and Southern charm. William Faulkner once insisted that great stories must capture the “old universal truths…love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.” Sutter’s Cross delivers the truth in grand style. Sutter’s Cross is a resort town in the southern Appalachians, where people live in comfortable homes, have comfortable portfolios, and wear comfortable clothes. They expect their lives, their weather, even their God, to be cooperative and predictable–until a stranger calling himself “Harley” shows up in the buffet line at the church’s annual spring picnic looking like a wreck and wearing stolen jeans. Can God use an outcast to change a town?
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Contemporary offerings such as this well-crafted debut from Cramer give the evangelical Christian fiction market reason to hope that the term “excellent CBA novel” is not an oxymoron. When Harley, a homeless bearded bum, turns up at a church picnic in the little town of Sutter’s Cross deep in the southern Appalachian Mountains, events are set in motion that will challenge the residents’ status quo. Harley’s countenance is eerily similar to the portrait of Jesus on the church’s billboard at the entrance to town, painted by the unlikable Orde Wingo, an outspoken Sunday School teacher who perhaps overexemplifies the problems of fundamentalist Christianity (and is the only character who is overdrawn). Other finely developed characters, including the protagonist, Jake Mahaffey, are forced to confront the fears or pain of their pasts through the events of the present. More tension develops as ruthless visionary Web Holcombe is driven to turn Sutter’s Cross into a glamorous resort destination. Cramer ambitiously weaves together multiple themes (father and son relationships, the battle over the area’s development, the responsibility of the church to the disadvantaged, racial tension, adolescent angst, Harley’s secret past), but his lovely writing keeps the carefully constructed plot moving at a moderate pace.
Bethany House Publishers
W. Dale Cramer