(TOP 1000 REVIEWER) (VINE VOICE)
Thus is the premise of "Imaginary Friend." Franklin Whitestone, hero of a 9/11 styled attack on a football stadium finds his life turned upside down when he announces what he really thinks about God on a national television show. He and his family swoop from American Heroes to American Pariahs in the scope of two days, once the faithful feel threatened more by a single atheist and his family than multiple bands of terrorists. Whitestone, his son Todd and his former wife Mary now have to dodge a marauding press corps, Money Grubbing Mega-Church leaders, old girlfriends, unhappy employers and gun toting ChritsoFacists if they want to live through a quintessential American Nightmare resulting from not being very careful what you say in front of a live microphone (or post on the internet).
Inventive and well thought out characters make this a compelling read, as does the detailed writing style. The description of Nan and Dan's gun collection is alone enough to give you the creeps. Todd Whitestone, the precocious and gifted 16 year old son, is also a highlight of "Imaginary Friend" as he tries his best to help his father from a jam. Catherine, Franklin's alpha-mother, gets the best laughs as the Queen Bee of the Whitestone hive. Add the satirical bent of our instant-celebrity culture (an agent who advises Franklin just how rich he can get with a good PR man), and you get an entertaining novel about just how absurd the world of organized religion can get.
The story is about a lawyer, Franklin Whitestone, who rescues 53 people from a burning stadium but becomes a hunted man when he speaks candidly about his atheist views on national TV. The breathless chase across Ohio involves not just Franklin but Franklin's family, whose escape from their demented kidnappers is one of the high points of the novel. Franklin meets some colorful characters along the way, including Corbin Milk, a gay ex-C.I.A. agent who helps Franklin with his disguise, and Jonathan Harker, a PR agent who insists that Franklin can make tons of money from his ordeal. Even the God-fearing militant hunters have their virtues and sympathies. One is often pleasantly surprised, even relieved, by the humor that Whaley mines from the darkest and grisliest situations.
For many years the atheists' cause has rested on the shoulders of writers like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and most recently, Christopher Hitchens, whose logical arguments, while unassailable on their own terms, often fail to take the fight where it would really count, namely, the psychological realm. Religious fanatics will not be swayed by any number of scientific arguments that disprove the possibility of talking snakes; they hold the trump card of "The Lord works in mysterious ways." But if you can tap into their basic sympathies for their fellow man and demonstrate how destructive religion has been to innocent people (including all the deaths at the football stadium, bombed by an Islamic terrorist), you might be able to turn some heads. This is where "Imaginary Friend" succeeds so well.
Franklin Whitestone finds himself an unwitting hero after surviving a terrorist bomb attack in a crowded stadium. After television crews film him playing a critical role in the safe escape of himself and other victims, he is instantly transformed into a national celebrity. Franklin is is flown in high style to New York to appear on a live call in-show to recount his experience. The interview starts out well, but when a caller ask if he was praying to God for strength during his ordeal, he scoffs and proudly boasts about not having an "imaginary friend". He goes on to ask the caller why God should be credited for getting him out of the mess, but not blamed for the terrorist attack happening in the first place. The studio erupts in shock and outrage.
Before he understands what has happened, Franklin finds him the subject of hatred, anger, reproach and pity. Everything he holds dear is threatened by his new notoriety, and a dangerous religious extremist - one of the same men who helped free the Franklin from the stadium - sets out to "save him" a second time.
If you have ever suffered social rejection or for your non-belief, Imaginary Friend will haunt you. Franklin's detractors spout familiar religious criticisms of atheism, but Whaley's characters are complex; they have minds and flaws of their own, and don't always respond in the way we wish they would. The story is thrilling, heartbreaking, at times infuriating,and always hard to set down.
Can America accept a man who saved 53 lives in a bomb-ravaged football stadium but didn't do it in the name of God? Can an atheist be a hero?
Douglas Whaley answers these questions in this chilling novel. He skillfully handles a suspenseful, can't-put-this-book-down, plot while bringing America's religious intolerance out into the light. His characters are frighteningly real and their development is superb.
I was concerned that it would be too atheist-preachy, and while it does certainly put atheism in a positive light, the characters are realistically flawed which allows the story to be a good read, while still making some good counter-apologetics points.
The ghastly and harrowing situations depicted are so incredibly detailed as to make one certain that the author is describing personal experiences, and doing an excellent job of it. The unnerving ending is a shocker, but follows inevitably from the nature of the protagonists.
This is a book that everyone can enjoy-regardless of religious stance. And, it will make every reader think about the America we live in and the dilemmas that face us in a fast-changing world.
"A Guide to the Best of My Blog," April 29, 2013