(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

In Sutter’s Cross, W. Dale Cramer tells the story of people in a small north Georgia town who find their notions of piety, holiness, and faith tested. It is a novel about people learning to place their faith in God rather than in themselves and realizing it is only through trusting in God that you can live a whole and fulfilling life. The novel opens with the Sutter’s Cross Community Church picnic; Jake Mahaffey and his fellow church members and picnickers do not know what to think of the long-haired, greasy drifter, Harley, who happens by the picnic.

When Harley pounces on elderly Agnes Dewberry (to perform the Heimlich maneuver), one of the male members of the congregation mistakes his motives and smashes him in the face. When Harley is taken to the hospital, doctors discover that his jaw has already been broken in an accident not long before. Harley refuses to let the hospital hold him, and before long he has retreated into the Appalachian mountain wilderness above Agnes’s farm. More than anything, Harley wants peace in which to read his Bible and to meditate on the overlook called Joshua’s Knee at the edge of the high, long ridge in the territory behind Agnes’s house.

Jake finds Harley to be an enigma; he sees himself as Agnes’s protector and wants to make sure that Harley means her no harm. He is willing to accept Agnes’s word that Harley is a good man who means well; however, other members of Jake’s church—such as Sunday school teacher Orde Wingo—cannot see past Harley’s long hair, beard, and dilapidated clothing. Before long, Jake has other things on his mind besides Harley; his wife, Lori, tells him she is pregnant. It is not long before Jake realizes that Harley is what he seems to be: a man seeking to become closer to God.

Juxtaposed against Harley is millionaire Web Holcombe. The son of a well-to-do developer, Web has used his experiences in Vietnam to justify a take-no-prisoners approach to building his own empire. He has single-handedly made Sutter’s Cross a desirable golf resort. Married to a beautiful woman and wealthy beyond his dreams, Web sees himself as a man in control of his life, who needs no help from...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Butler, Tamara. Review of Levi’s Will by W. Dale Cramer. Library Journal 130, no. 10 (June 1, 2005): 108. Review of the third book by Cramer mentions his tendency to create fallen heroes.

Crosby, Cindy. “Spiritual Misfits.” Review of Sutter’s Cross. Christianity Today 47, no. 3 (March, 2003): 79. A brief review that describes the spiritual challenges the novel’s characters must meet.

Mort, John. Review of Sutter’s Cross. Booklist 99, nos. 9/10 (January 1/15, 2003): 845. Review praises Cramer’s first novel.

Publishers Weekly. Review of Sutter’s Cross. 249, no. 51 (December 23, 2002): 46. Review that focuses primarily on the style of the novel and its place in the tradition of southern literature.

“W. Dale Cramer.” Contemporary Authors Online. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale, 2007. A short biography of Cramer that discusses Sutter’s Cross.