That’s always been one of those verses I get a little uneasy of whenever I hear it. There’s usually an air of presumption by those who tend to quote it, as if the “prophets” in question couldn’t just be kooks. But that might just be me projecting.
Hometown Prophet is a self-published piece of Christian fiction. I rarely review books, especially Christian fiction books, much less a self-published one. But for some reason this one grabbed my attention. Its premise is simple enough: thirty-something Peter Quill moves back to his mother’s home in Nashville, TN. God then sends him prophetic dreams which he is tasked to not only interpret, but act upon. His visions and actions—challenging people’s worship of money, their lack of environmental protection, their inability to love their neighbors (particularly their Muslim ones)—quickly put him in the crosshairs of the local church community, the media, and the community at large.
Author Jeff Fulmer mentions that he grew up in a conservative, charismatic household but became increasingly frustrated with how people used Christianity for their own agenda. It was probably that his story so closely resonated with mine that piqued my curiosity. But as a book borne of reaction, it stumbles into a lot of pitfalls.
The idea of God sending someone prophetic dreams and the trouble it gets them into is and ever-intriguing one. Hometown Prophet has a narrative voice that’s lightly cynical, just this side of a blogger ready to break into a full-on rant. But it’s restrained by being a little too “inside”, using a lot of jargon from (and aimed at) a Christian audience (yet another potential pitfall of Christian fiction). The writing gets a little stilted, especially when it has a point to make, losing the voice of its main character (a thinly disguised authorial voice).
Hometown Prophet doesn’t plumb the depths of the character or the implications of having a prophetic gift, squandering a lot of energy on church politics, Christian pop culture critique, and other easy targets. For a 30 year old, our hero reads like a young post-teen who hasn’t found himself. His endless sarcasm in lieu of development, made for an easy read, but painted him as a light weight character.
On the problematic end of things, we were barely 100 pages in before we encountered a Magical Negro in the form of a homeless man who helps our hero on his way. This is compounded by a Native American our hero encounters at the scene of an environmental disaster (at least the Native American didn’t cry at the sight of all of the pollution).
Then there are the dangers of self-publishing. This book could have used a line editor in the worst way. Fulmer ends up unintentionally switching POVs, it was sometimes unclear whether he wanted to tell the story through his protagonist’s eyes or through the eyes of those around him. The ending forgot about an entire plot thread (the FBI storyline) and collapsed in a mess of a literal Deus ex machina: a flood scene. I’d warn about spoilers, but floods have been the saving grace of all would-be prophets from Noah to Evan Almighty to Eli Stone.
I’ve on occasion heard from a frustrated reader because the story they’re reading isn’t the story they want it to be. Hometown Prophet isn’t as deep as I wanted or expected it to be. It avoided opportunities of significant explorations doubt and struggle. But that’s not the story in front of me. This story strikes me as the first time novel of an author with a deeply personal story they wanted to tell who didn’t have the complete skill set to do it justice. Sort of like a premature birth, everything’s there, just not fully developed. The story’s there, the characters are there, the themes are there, but all of it needed at least one more polish.
Hometown Prophet is a breezy examination of the idea of the impact of a modern day prophet, with all the danger and pathos of a Christian after school program.