Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

An overtly Christian novel—with each chapter introduced by an epigraph from the book of Ezekiel and ending with a recipe from Velma’s restaurant—Velma Still Cooks in Leeway nevertheless speaks to nonbelievers as powerfully as it does to believers. Although the small community of Leeway, Kansas, appears to be a quiet town, events of eternal proportion rock Velma’s secluded world. Velma finds herself surrounded by family, neighbors, and customers who wrestle with sin in their lives. Much needs to be forgiven in this close-knit community, and on many levels. Velma must forgive her neighbor, who deserted his wife and daughter. She must forgive the abandoned wife, Doris, who never recovered emotionally and is initially unable to meet her daughter’s needs. The community must forgive Len, the young man who date-raped the daughter, Shellye. Velma must forgive the church members who let Shellye down in her time of need. She must also forgive herself for doing the same. Subplots also call for mercy and forgiveness adding depth and creating a poignant, echoing call for Christians to extend God’s grace to each other.

When Grady, Shellye’s new husband and presumed rescuer, abuses her, the people of Leeway—like ordinary people everywhere—are surprised by their own blindness. They operate as though the troubling things in life will correct themselves as long as people doing the best they can. It takes Doris’s murder to shake them awake, and in hindsight they finally perceive their own complicity in the abuse, realizing that they should have acted on the little warnings they thought they saw instead of making allowances for a man who seemed devoted to God. Velma realizes that she, too, has been locked into a dangerous pattern. Like her mother and her grandmother before her, she did not speak when she had the power to do so.

A forerunner of Wright’s edgier Christian fiction, Velma Still Cooks in Leeway presents a disturbing yet reassuring exploration of the basic need for forgiveness and people’s corresponding need to grant forgiveness. Both actions are rooted in God’s love and sacrifice. Even when sin and its consequences invade lives, God’s divine forgiveness and love gently sustain his people.