Sunday, November 14, 2010


Portofino is a seaside resort in northern Italy, and is the setting for a novel by Frank Schaeffer - the son of the well known Presbyterian missionary, writer and preacher Francis Schaeffer. The book claims to be fiction, but apparently (if you read Frank Schaeffer's autobiography 'Crazy for God') it is largely based on Frank's real life experiences as a child.

The family presented in the book are fairly extreme, fundamentalist, Presbyterian types. The book is from the point of view of the youngest son - Calvin - who isn't quite as extreme in his views as the rest of his family. (This very much mirrors Frank Schaeffer's own life, as he rejected the fundamentalism of his upbringing and is now part of an Orthodox church).

As someone who grew up in a 'Conservative Evangelical Presbyterian' church, an awful lot of this book is frighteningly familiar. The characters are slightly (but only slightly!) exaggerated versions of people I grew up around. All the attitudes and opinions are real.

And the book shows just how ridiculous and unrealistic some of the attitudes and opinions are, in the context of the real world. The book also shows the hypocrisy of the main family and the tensions within the family, all of which rung very true.

If you want a (not very flattering) look into the minds of Conservative Evangelicals in the 60s (and not much had changed by the 70s, when I came along) then this is the book for you. The opinions regarding the 'lost', trying to out-pray each other to show who was more pious, praying extended graces over meals in public places as 'witness', all this was frighteningly accurate. I particularly loved the ongoing joke about the Presbyterian church the family were part of, which kept on splitting into factions, and so the PCUSA became the PCCUSA and later the PCCCUSA.

Anyway, if your upbringing was anything like mine, you'll find this an entertaining, if cringeworthy, read.


Edwardtbabinski said...

Frank Schaeffer's come quite a way, from Reformed to Orthodox to semi-agnostic.

Anonymous said...

I loved that book, along with the rest in the trilogy. The inside jokes and critique of evangelicalism are brilliant, and for me were cathartic, I imagine in some degree cathartic in the way they were for Schaeffer in writing them. I liked the PCCUSA stuff, and I don't remember which book, but I was laughing out loud at the section about the evangelism walnut, too too funny.