‘Death Comes for the Deconstructionist,’ by Daniel Taylor

Death Comes for the Deconstructionist

Dr. Pratt helped me see that I had simply left one fundamentalism for another. I had moved from relying on Holy Writ to relying on Holy Reason, and the difference between the two was far less radical than I had thought. Both assumed a stable, knowable world. Neither, therefore, understood that the god of this world is Proteus, the shape-changer, giver of multiplicity.

Years ago, I read a book called The Myth of Certainty, by Daniel Taylor, who taught at Bethel University (it may have still been Bethel College in those days) in St. Paul, Minnesota. It was a controversial book, attracting critics and defenders. After finishing it I was definitely in the camp of the critics. The message of the book (so far as I understood it) was, “We can’t say that anything is absolutely true. We can only say that it’s true for us, personally.” It seemed to me a direct attack on the philosophy of Francis Schaeffer (in fact a fictionalized Schaeffer surrogate appears in the book). I believed then, and still believe, that if we can’t make a claim to absolute truth, we might as well drop all our church work except for acts of charity.

I didn’t realize until I had downloaded Daniel Taylor’s Death Comes for the Deconstructionist that it was by the same guy. But I figured I’d give it a chance. I’ve enjoyed many novels written by authors with whom I have philosophical disagreements.

I’m glad I did. This is a splendid Christian novel.

Jon Mote’s life is falling apart. Once he was a promising English scholar, but he dropped his doctoral studies when he clashed with his mentor, the distinguished Deconstructionist professor Richard Pratt. Now he lives in squalor aboard a small houseboat on the river in St. Paul. He makes a tenuous living doing research for law firms. His divorce from his wife is nearly final. And, oh yes, he hears voices in his head, goading him to self-harm.

His only anchor is his sister Judy, who lives with him. She is mentally retarded, and serenely clings to all the verities Jon abandoned long ago. She loves Jesus and she loves her brother.

Recently Dr. Pratt was killed, found dead with a stab wound on the sidewalk below his hotel window. Dr. Pratt’s widow calls Jon and asks him to investigate the crime. The police, she believes, are making no progress, and Jon’s familiarity with her husband’s world and professional circle might give him insight.

Jon doesn’t want to do it. He is about as far from a natural sleuth as it’s possible to be. However, he desperately needs the money, and so he takes the job. He makes slow, uneven progress, but he does begin to learn things, partly thanks to Judy, his strange “Watson,” who is not ashamed to ask obvious questions.

The secrets he uncovers reveal dark and shocking incidents in Pratt’s past, incidents that do much to explain the course of his career. But as Jon progresses in his investigation, he finds himself in a kind of race – can he solve the case before he plunges into madness for good?

The climax of the story is eucatastrophic, lyrical, and moving.

This is a high-quality Christian novel. It reminded me of Athol Dickson at his best. There are tedious and uncomfortable stretches, but they have a purpose – dramatizing the recursive, uneasy world of the mentally ill. I won’t say I couldn’t put down Death Comes for the Deconstructionist – I can always put a book down if I have to – but I was riveted from beginning to end.

Highly recommended. Not for kids.

2 thoughts on “‘Death Comes for the Deconstructionist,’ by Daniel Taylor”

  1. Yeah — I’m reading it for the second time and am impressed, and looking forward to reading the second novel.

    Jon Mote as narrator often makes literary references and allusions that are appropriate, for the novel, as reflections of his experience as an English major. I wonder whether people who are English majors today will notice very many of them, because of the reduction in study of canonical poems, plays, and novels.

    I wonder what a former colleague, who went to another university, would make of this book — if it would make him uncomfortable. I liked him, but he was a little like Pratt.

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