Reading “Fred”

I picked up a book at church I’d skipped multiple times in the past. “Welcome to Fred,” by Brad Whittington, seemed light. But my reading lately runs to Kierkegaard, Calvin, Montaigne and other brain-swelling books, so light seemed good.

‘Fred’ presents a coming of age story about Mark Cloud, a kid that people don’t much know what to do with, because he’s a preacher’s kid. Perhaps that creates his struggles with social interaction, though Cloud, the narrator, is also an annoying 98-pound weakling. He spouts non-sequiturs and possesses a vocabulary that sometimes seems to belong to the author, not the 8-year-old boy we first meet.

The plot holds some improbable twists. Why does a family that moves every year suddenly stay in one place for years on end? How does a preacher who triples attendance at a church in a single year find his next call in the middle of nowhere? Successful ministers usually get called to bigger churches in better places. Then there’s that Christian Lampoon Vacation.

Then again, many of the book’s events either go over Cloud’s head or go unexplained. Perhaps that comes from being a story about a boy. He bottles up a lot of things inside himself, and most of the people around him come into and out of his life like clouds.  They have about as much substance, too.Fred runs with the uneven pace of a country creek. Parts of it read like the first novel it seems to be. There are a couple of genuinely good scenes in the book. The book deals with big questions about faith and modern life in realistic and believable ways. The characters are a bit wooden, but several left me wanting to know more about them. And Mark learns something important, perhaps profound, at the end.

Somehow, he grew on me, and his coming of age as a Christian and the son of a preacher contained nuance and balance enough to suggest that Whittington could write a better second book (we’ll see, since it turns out he wrote a Fred trilogy).

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