The Shack by William Paul Young was published in 2007 by Windblown Media. It is a New York Times bestseller, with more than five million copies in print by 2009. The story opens with a few simple characters, including Mackenzie Allen Phillips, his daughter, Missy, his wife, Nan, and a few family friends.
The story turns sinister, however, when Missy gets abducted during an otherwise routine family vacation. Evidence surfaces that she may have been brutally murdered in an abandoned shack, located in the remote Oregon wilderness country. Suspense builds when, four years later, the protagonist, Mack (Mackenzie Phillips) receives a note "from God" (signed by "Papa") inviting him back to that very same shack for one weekend.
With great reservation and suspicion, Mack goes to the shack. Upon arriving there, Mack is greeted unexpectedly, however, by an African-American woman, Elouisa, who confesses to sending the mysterious note, as she is called "Papa" as a nickname. It is here he also meets other pivotal characters, including Jesus, who is an Asian-looking handyman and maintenance worker, and Sarayu, the gardener. All three of these characters greet Mack upon his arrival at the notorious "shack," and he is taken aback by their graciousness and hospitality.
As Mack spends more time at the shack, his relationship with Papa and the others grows more intimate and real, Mack gradually learns to cope with Missy's loss. Each of the characters is representative of some bigger idea; they are symbols of other ideas or religious figures. Jesus, for instance, is representative of the obvious Christ-like qualities, values, and words. "Papa," otherwise known as Elouisa, seems to be Mack's guiding voice, much like the sagacious voice of God himself. Sarayu, the gardener, teaches Mack to tend his life much the same way one would tend a garden -- with care and nurturing. She could be considered the "Virgin Mary" character, but is too down-to-earth and utilitarian to be labeled as entirely feminine. Her role is closer to that of the "Holy Spirit," spoken of as part of the Trinity in religious circles: Father (God), Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost, which is the "tool" or "voice" of God Himself.
As the story progresses, we watch Mack's relationship to each of these representative characters grow and develop, just as his spiritual relationship also matures. He gains a gradual acceptance of Missy's fate through his stay at The Shack, and the book becomes a religious metaphor.
In one final plot twist, there is a Jeep accident with another character, Willie, that lands Mack in the hospital. The stay allows him to comprehend the totality of everything else in the novel that transpired, and allows him to gain new perspective on life at large. By novel's end, experts are able to locate and deduce evidence of Missy's demise, arrest her killer, and connect him to other murders of little girls in the area. There is a brief "after words" note at the end, allowing the reader to explore Mack's "current" life even deeper.