Book Review: Intended for Harm by CS Lakin

"The highway to holiness is a toll road."  —CS Lakin

Book:  Intended for Harm
Author:  CS Lakin
Pages:  441
Format:  Kindle/ebook
Publisher:  Amazon Digital Services
Book Source:  Author
Category:  Contemporary fiction
Style:  Strong religious themes, tragic elements, includes scenes with drug and alcohol abuse, and some graphic violence

Synopsis from GoodReads:

1971: Jake Abrams is desperate to leave his oppressive home in Colorado and begina new life in college in LA, but his dreams are waylaid when he meets Leah, an antiwar protester who pushes him into marriage and family. Through four decades Jake struggles to raise a family, facing tragedy and heartbreak, searching for meaning and faith and challenging a silent God as he wanders through his life.
     . . . . Intended for Harm explores the depth of a heart that doubts, and how it finds its way home to a God who has never been absent. It delves into the theme of harm—how those suffering loss and unmet needs intend harm toward others, but can find redemption through grace and humility. . . . read more

My Take:

I curled up in bed last night, propped in pillows, reading the last chapters of this book while Dallas laid next to me watching a video, more asleep then awake.  All of the sudden, he peered at me and said, "Are you alright?  Is everything okay?"  I sniffled and blinked back my tears, feeling somewhat foolish and assured him I was.  I do get rather misty experiencing a story from time to time, but rarely to the point that my husband actually notices.

Intended for Harm is that kind of book.  You can read the prologue here.
     Pain precedes the healing.  This truth has taken a lifetime to learn.
     The Great Physician cannot heal until the incision is made and what is putrid and pustulant collides with air and water until thoroughly cleansed.  There is a wash of relief that follows such ablution, and the soul thus rid of a lifetime's burden of contamination becomes keenly aware of a glorious sense of freedom.

—CS Lakin, Intended for Harm
Like her book Conundrum, Intended for Harm is not an easy read.  It requires thought.  It requires pondering at times.  It demands an emotional investment and delivers stellar returns.  It took me about a week to read because, quite frankly, its intensity requires a rest of sensibilities and some of it can only be taken bits at a time.  But, as I said, the pay-off is more than worth the effort.

1971:  Jake Abrams leaves Colorado and his brusk and off-putting father Isaac, his outdoorsman twin brother Ethan, and his long-suffering mother Rebecca to head off to college at UCLA in Los Angeles, California.  Literally, as soon as he gets off the bus, he meets passionate Leah, a free-spirited war protester who sweeps the country boy off his feet, and before he can say "dropped class" he finds himself pressured into marriage and struggling to make the ends of both time and money meet.

If any of this sounds familiar, you're probably hearing the strong echos of the biblical tale in Exodus of Jacob, his father Isaac, mother Rebecca, brother Esau and wives Leah and Rachel.  Its title is drawn from Genesis 50:20:  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good (New International Version).  The King James version differs just a bit.

Leah constantly berates Jake for not following what she thinks his dreams should be.  However, his dream of a college education and her pathological need to be pregnant have collided, and Jake finds himself the father of Reuben, Simon, Levi and Dinah all within five years of marriage.  College has fallen by the wayside.  Jake works first in a door-making workshop and then a home improvement warehouse to make ends meet, and things could not be worse at home.

Although Reuben, their eldest, is born healthy and strong, Leah's postpartum depression turns her to alcohol, and Simon is born with symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome.  While Jake struggles to work during the day and do housework at night, Leah swings more wildly between the euphoria of pregnancy and postpartum depression, with both Levi and Dinah, scarcely ten months apart, revealing the ravages of prenatal drug abuse.

Leah's mental illness results in her abandoning her family in increasing increments until, with Dinah still a baby, she walks out on them altogether, never to return.  Ms. Lakin explores the devastation Leah leaves in her wake, Jake's withdrawal into himself as tragedy after tragedy assault his very will to live,  Rachel, his second wife's struggle to shoulder the burden of motherhood for his trouble children, Reuben's striving to be the perfect son, and Simon's bitter resentment which festers into burning hatred which drags himself and Levi into the same alcohol and drug abuse which beset Leah and nearly destroys their lives.

Despite the long cast of Leah's shadow, Jake and Rachel rejoice in their son Joseph, a blessing they must not replicate due to Rachel's difficult pregnancy and the pre-eclampsia which threatened her life.  However, the inevitable happens, Jake's world is shattered, and he is left with six motherless children for whom he must somehow provide.  He slips into autopilot to survive one day to the next.

Joseph shines as the one bright spot in his bleak and desolate world.  Free of all the grief and guilt associated with Leah, unmarred with Rachel's death as is baby Ben, Jake treasures and pampers Joseph, a recipe for disaster.  When Dinah is sexually assaulted and Simon and Levi take matters into their own hands in a doped-up rage, when Joseph can no longer live with the terrible secret his family conceals, matters come to a head and Jake suffers the loss from which none believe he will ever truly recover.

With the skill of Orson Scott Card (Women of GenesisStone Tables) and her own inimitable style, Ms. Lakin possesses the insight to understand these near-legends whose stories are anchored in the foundations of American society (whether or not they are any longer seen as such).  She introduces the reader to real people in heart-rending situations and illustrates their characters, their motivations and their fears.

Like Card (the Homecoming and Alvin Maker series), she embraces the lexicon of her faith, reinvents their stories, translates them for a contemporary audience and makes them relevant to the here and now. True to life, she jumbles up the good and the bad in each character, giving them redemptive qualities and sympathetic points of view in addition to their flaws.  She withholds judgment.  She sheds light, infuses life, and pulls our heroes into our reach.

Intended for Harm is a story of forgiveness, redemption, and God's grace.  Jake's quest for God, a forty-year epoch journey, comprises its central theme.  As the biblical Jacob wandered in the wilderness, Jake roams aimlessly through the desolation of his life without rudder or sail, seeking without finding until he at last allows himself God's grace.

As Jacob wrestled with God's angel and demanded a blessing, Jake wrestles with his faith, unwilling or unable to accept a god who allows such tragedies to happen.  Eventually, unable to deny what he sees with his own eyes, he allows himself to admit there is a God who has blessed Joseph with the power to perform miracles.  However, he cannot see himself as regarded or even known, let alone loved.  His anger with God continues his banishment, and not until he allows himself to see the "blessing amidst the storm" can he truly come home.

Although she embraces religious themes, Ms. Lakin shuns the pedantic and overwrought.  Rather than mount a soapbox, she reveals spiritual journeys more potent and important to her characters than any other they experience.  She writes powerfully with the voice of personal knowledge.  Her words speak heart-to-heart and soul-to-soul universal truths which transcend the fractures of denomination and organized religion.
God created us to need him, so that we would search for him until we found him.  This was the longing for home [Jake] often pondered about—not a place, no.  Home was a person.  A person who stood waiting with outstretched arms.  Only in those arms could one have a sense of belonging.
—CS Lakin, Intended for Harm
Intended for Harm works its way through long bleak years rife with bitterness, anger and strife.  Moments of happiness come few and far between and provide the reader little relief.  Those accustomed to the typical "feel-good" Christian fiction fare may fail to appreciate the more difficult passages of this book and the grittier side of life Ms. Lakin chooses to portray.

The reader should be aware of a rape scene, a violent murder and all the trappings of teenagers caught up in drug and alcohol abuse, including theft, drug-dealing and illicit sex.  Leah's struggle with mental illness includes adultery.  However, CS Lakin guides Jake's journey from darkness into light with a deft hand, and manages to convey the stark realism of these situations without assaulting the reader with the coarse and crass.

Bottom line:   It feels to me that Ms. Lakin and I speak the same language, listen to the same music, worship the same loving Heavenly Father.  Her stories connect with me and I find the effort and time required to read them a worthwhile investment of my time.  True to form, Intended for Harm delivers the same dead-on reality skillfully merged with the less tangible but equally concrete world of faith in a manner appealing to her broad base of readers, no matter their faith.  In doing so, the author voices truths which resound in the soul.  I highly recommend this book.

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FTC disclaimer:  An electronic copy of this book was provided to me by the author or their agent with the understanding I would provide a fair and honest review.  I receive no other compensation for this content.

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