What do you do if you're an academic, "just the facts, ma'am" thinker who reads Immersion
, a story narrated by a butcher's son who's sliding into madness? Either become a little mad yourself, or simply let go of the need to understand everything. Letting go felt so good! I thoroughly enjoyed my first encounter with the dark thoughts of Lee Thompson.
As a clergyperson, I can get stuck in a rut of considering "immersion" from the standpoint of Christian baptism. Theologians through the centuries have gotten into sometimes ridiculous arguments about whether sprinkling water on the head or dunking the entire body in a tank, lake, river or ocean is the more valid form of baptism. Proponents of dunking consider their baptism ritual to represent "full immersion" in water, or complete commitment to the Christian faith. Baptism, like the other sacraments of the Church, are viewed as outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace. Regardless of my level of agreement on this theological point, the image of full immersion and commitment is helpful for me in understanding the building madness of Immersion
. In the end, Leroy barrels past the point of no return, immersing himself fully in his mission to "stay alive long enough to kill them all and drive the demons from Jonah's Reef." Leroy's "full immersion" is an outward sign of what? A loving and gracious God? Clearly not. Leroy's god is a bit more complex, revealing a god of action that is both "terrible and giving."
Who or what are these demons confronted by Leroy? Are they internal or external? How many people does Leroy kill? Are his victims simply collateral damage in Leroy's war against darkness and inner demons? I have my suspicions of what the answers might be, but Thompson allows for ambiguity, leaving any neat conclusions to individual readers. While reading Immersion
, it's hard to know exactly where reality ends and murderous imagination begins. The world of Jonah's Reef as filtered through a lonely and confused mind is murky and inconclusive, just the type of place you'd expect to find "terrible and giving" forces colliding.
In the end, Leroy fulfills Keri's wish of encountering a real god, a deity made manifest in action. Such an incurable romantic, that Leroy. For love, Leroy makes manifest a god true to his own experience of being "tacked ... to a cross called Limbo" where "[e]verything always bleeds together, the good times and the bad, the roads and the woods, day and night." There's plenty of devil in Leroy's divine details. Why do bad things happen to good people? Leroy's answer - the universe isn't all fairness, love and light. Just ask Job, whose god behaves a whole lot like a devil. Thompson seems to be arguing that full immersion in life demands acknowledgement of our shadows. I absolutely love this theological and philosophical speculation! Thompson's Immersion
kept me intellectually engaged throughout.
No doubt, Immersion
will not be for everyone. Thompson makes readers work a little bit. I found the reading experience well worth the effort, and recommend Immersion
highly for anyone who likes their horror on the literary side.