Author C. Reid is a fire-and-brimstone Christian and a proponent of bibliolatry, meaning there’s no room for nuance or historical or philosophical context in how she reads the Bible. In WALKING WITH THE ENEMY, her hardline Christianity runs headlong into a very different sort of theology. Back in the early 1990s, Read joined a Bible study group. She thought she’d found a family in Christ, but things got weird as time went on. She labels the group a “cult.” Going by what’s presented in the book, it’s questionable that they’d qualify for that dubious descriptor. There’s no evidence of deliberate brainwashing or any of the other marks that signify a true religious cult. However, the leader of the group is undoubtedly unethical and manipulative (though perhaps unconsciously so). He takes sexual advantage of the members of his flock. In at least one, his misdeeds provoke legal action.
All in all, the story is based on an intriguing dramatic scenario. Where the book fails lives to up to its potential is in its narrative structure. WALKING WITH THE ENEMY is written as a series of personal letters written from Read to former members of the group. The letters are interspersed with Read’s thoughts and occasional recreations of events. This actually could have been a terrific and novel choice for the book’s structure, but the execution is lacking. There’s also almost zero physical description. People and the places are simply there, never rendered in any kind of interesting detail that could draw readers in. And because Read concerns herself so much with addressing the former members of the group, she doesn’t built tension well or ever rise to a clear climax. This deadens the book’s pacing, as well. But it’s unlikely Read was concerned with such notions of narrative structure.
WALKING WITH THE ENEMY is a testimonial, not a novel. This is likely an insurmountable problem with the book for some readers, but is also the most fascinating thing about it. For Read, this book is literally an account of her encounter with Satan himself. In WALKING WITH THE ENEMY, she confronts her former accuser and readers alike with her righteous notion of Truth. The leader of the Bible study group (the man who unethically sleeps with members of his flock) is an interesting (though reprehensible) character in his own right. He comes through to us in transcribed interviews. He doesn’t seem to have ever had any evil intentions. His influence got to his head, and his rather liberal interpretations of the Bible allowed him to justify taking advantage of people. The core of the book’s draw, though, is always Read. Her conviction oscillates between inspiring and infuriating. Seeing the world through her eyes is a literary experience one is not going to easily find anywhere else.
In terms of the nuts and bolts of writing, Read is a skilled wordsmith. It was obvious that she put careful labor into every sentence in WALKING WITH THE ENEMY. Her prose is clean, efficient, and direct. Read doesn’t strive for poesy or glitz. She strives for precision. The obvious care with which she crafts her words is admirable. The book is also meticulously copy edited.
For all its narrative flaws, WALKING WITH THE ENEMY is an utterly unique book that offers a fascinating glimpse into the mind of the author, who lives by a Christian code that most people would find alien in the modern world. As if that wasn’t interesting enough, the book shows us that woman in combat with a lustful, manipulative Bible study leader who abuses his followers’ earnest hunger for meaningful faith in the world.
~Jeffery Loren for IndieReader