The Rapture of Canaan is the story of a young girl’s coming of age within the confines of the Christian cult her grandfather devised. She struggles to understand her place in a community ruled more by her grandfather, Pastor Herman, than by Jesus. She’s desperate to avoid the sin her grandfather preaches against and uncertain why she doesn’t feel the connection to Jesus that has her family speaking in tongues and crying out to God during Sunday services. Into this confusion comes James, her prayer partner, and the two are equally torn by their desire to please God (or maybe just Pastor Herman) and to explore their newfound feelings for each other. When Ninah finds herself pregnant and abandoned, she fears her life in the church and the only community she’s ever known is over, but it may be that her indiscretion and its unexpected outcome will change the lives of the congregants of the Church of Fire and Brimstone and God’s Almighty Baptizing Wind forever.
This story starts off quickly with simple prose and a sympathetic narrator in Ninah. She has had the laws of the church drummed into her but finds herself confused that all the rhetoric and suffering for Jesus doesn’t produce the spiritual outpouring in her that she witnesses in the rest of her family and community. In fact, at points in the early going the writing style actually seems too simplistic, and I found myself bored for just the briefest moment before the story rapidly picked up steam.
As Ninah begins to experience the consequences of her pregnancy, the book plumbs the depths of radical religion, the fragility of community, the mysterious ways of God, and the weaknesses of self-proclaimed arbiters of right and wrong. Reynolds has created a very captivating picture of a community dominated by a charismatic leader. Ninah’s journey to discovery of what she herself will choose to believe is compelling reading.