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Vineyard Fray recreates Old Testament story

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"Vineyard Fray" by Ben Kniskern

Rating:
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Vineyard City is an imaginary town in the Holy Lands during the Old Testament time period. The city was created by The Owner, who asks for one tenth of each citizen’s profit as a defrayment. The people and the temple have been misusing the offerings, and have hardened their hearts toward the Owner.

The story begins with Akrail, a simple man living just outside the city, being caught up in the middle of an attack by Malvalar, a huge army from a city 500 miles away. He somehow knows that this attack is being sent by the Owner as punishment for the people’s sins. A small band of 16 people find each other during the battle, and together, they work to save the city. The Owner helps them defeat the enemy by sending an unusual rain storm, and causing them to retreat in a hurry. The Owner also sends messengers to warn the people about the Owner’s wrath.

Ushered into the city as heroes, Akrail and his companions are introduced to the King and given a special commission. They begin to look into the problems the temple workers are creating.

The plot is interesting and has ups and downs, twists and turns. It starts off with a huge battle, dies down a little, then builds up to the next big problem. The battle plans are well thought out and logical. Some developments are unexpected, and yet logical. The plot is the book’s strongest point.

It’s written in the third person omnipotent style. Omnipotent means that the story is narrated by an unseen character who tells the reader what is going on. It doesn’t allow the reader to get under the skin of one character, to know their fears, history and reasoning. It also doesn’t allow the reader to feel fully involved in the action. It tells the reader what is happening, but it doesn’t show it.

The omnipotent style is not applied consistently. The author tells what characters think and feel. In this style, the characters would have to say what they are thinking and feeling, because they are just being observed.

The dialogue is too skimpy. It also lacks a specific style. It starts off as modern American, using terms like “Okay” and “great.” Later on, after meeting the King, it takes a more formal tone that is often stilted because it doesn’t use contractions. While I was willing to accept that an ancient person would have a word for great, the expression of Okay comes from a political election in Ohio around 1800. A candidate, whose name I can’t remember, had the initials of O. K. and his campaign slogan was “O.K. is good.” Okay wasn’t okay during this time period.

There are other research details that don’t match what I know. I toured Israel on a pilgrimage several years ago. The diet is almost vegetarian. Keeping Kosher is paramount. In the story, they eat a lot of raw beef that was slaughtered several days before and has been hanging out in the hot sun. They should have been eating bread and jerky, or more likely, smoked fish.

Other descriptions didn’t match my experience, but then, maybe this imaginary town is in Turkey—who knows? The setting and the time period are not clearly stated.

The female character, Shale, is 20 years old and single. While it was nice to meet a strong woman who took her place among men, there wasn’t any explanation about why a city girl would go out hunting while her father tends the store, or why she was still single when most girls get married very young. I would also have liked to see her become attracted to one of the dozen men she had to choose from. The story needed more emotion. A love story would have offered a respite from all the bloodshed.

If the reader agrees with the punishment theology, can overlook discrepancies about the culture, and wants more of a movie-going experience than great literature, they might enjoy this book.

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