Sheila Jamison was a happy-go-lucky young woman with a blossoming career in greeting card writing whose inspirational verses were always well received. Her faith sustained her daily until a tragic car accident left her with intermittent periods of total blindness. With the assistance of a housekeeper, Sheila has been able to learn to function when her sight leaves, but she has never quite been the same. The beautiful poetry no longer flows the way it used to, and she finds herself discouraged during the bouts of blindness. Needing to feel independent and hoping to reconnect with the faith that used to come so easily, she insists on going to a friend's cabin alone for a bit of R&R where she almost literally runs into Cole Hampton.
Cole is an entrepreneur in the field of electronics who has built his company from the ground up to become a wealthy and successful businessman. He and Sheila first met on the night of her accident at a party he hosted in his home. Cole is a man who wants to control his own destiny and has never had much use for faith, but from the moment he first saw Sheila he knew there was something different about her. When they reconnect at his lakeside cabin, Cole saves Sheila from nearly drowning when she unexpectedly goes blind and falls into the water. Little does Sheila know that Cole was the one who caused her accident. He wants to get better acquainted with her, but fears what her reaction might be when she finds out the truth. Desiring to see the old Sheila again, Cole pushes her to do things she might not have even tried sighted much less blind. Sheila knows that overcoming the differences in their beliefs will be difficult, but she finally finds herself inspired again by Cole as she falls in love with him. The only problem is that she has no idea if he is just hanging out with her out of a sense of pity or if he truly cares for her in a more lasting way.
I first read Through a Glass Darkly when I was a teenager, but I didn't really remember much about the plot and thought it might be fun to see how I would view it through adult eyes. I have to say that I finished the story with rather mixed feelings. I didn't dislike the book, but neither can I say that I enthusiastically enjoyed it either. In my opinion, it had some issues which may have been a product of the time frame in which it was written (1985), and perhaps these "issues" are why I didn't recall the storyline.
My middle-of-the-road stance on the book itself is also mirrored in my opinions of the hero and heroine. Cole is a Vietnam vet and now the CEO of his own electronics company. He is a self-made man who wants to control his own destiny and doesn't seem to fear or be bothered by much of anything. As a result, he isn't very empathetic toward anyone else who is. He also has a reputation as a playboy. Cole's demeanor reminded me very much of the bodice-ripper style heroes of the 1970's and 1980's. One minute he is being a dominating alpha behaving in what I considered a rather cruel manner, making very direct and biting comments to Sheila and grabbing her arms/shoulders to shake her. Two paragraphs later, he's apologetic and more tender with his words and gestures. He also apparently went on dates with another woman while he was seeing Sheila, which is a huge no-no in my book. Sheila started the story as an outgoing young woman with a zany personality who composes greeting card verses for a living. After a car accident leaves her with intermittent periods of blindness, she becomes a shell of her former self. She too flip-flops back and forth between wanting to be independent while trying to trust God that everything will work out for the best, and simply being scared of life. She also has the one-minute-kind-and-gentle, the next-minute-temperamental thing going on. I think that perhaps the author was trying to use these extremes in personalities to express the character's complexities, as well as Sheila's struggles to come to terms with her disability and Cole's need for God in his life, but it just didn't entirely come across that way to me. Instead, I found their behavior to be frustrating and ended up rolling my eyes more than once at how quickly they could change their attitudes.
I think Sheila's realization that she was in love with Cole came about too quickly. I just didn't feel the build-up of emotions that would make me buy into it. The overall progression of the couple's relationship seemed very odd to me and lacking a smooth, sensible flow. Sheila loves Cole even though she thinks he doesn't love her in return and is only hanging out with her out of a sense of pity and physical desire, yet she continues to see him anyway. One minute Cole almost seems to mock Sheila both on a personal level, as well as her Christian values, and the next he admires her for both. They also tend to bicker quite a bit, which I think might have been intended to show their uncertainties about being with someone who was so different in both personality and religious beliefs. It's all just very choppy though, without any real clarity in their motives or intent, leaving me feeling like I was the one who was blind because I just couldn't "see" what in the world was supposed to be going on between them. I guess the one good thing I can say about their relationship is that Cole did bring the vibrancy back into Sheila's life even though I couldn't quite figure out how he did it.
Aside from the dichotomy of the characters, there were a couple of other paradoxes in this book. The first was a rift between the trite notion that Christians are supposed to be "perfect," trusting God always with a cheerful heart in spite of their trials and burdens, and the reality of fear and just plain being human. Since in real life perfect people don't exist, I think I'm much more receptive to those characters who tend to struggle a bit in their faith, and could relate to Sheila better when she was in this mode. The other odd thing in this book was that the author at least on an internal level acknowledged the existence of sexual desire which is more than many Christian authors do and which I could fully appreciate, but every time Cole said something with a double meaning or got the remotest bit passionate, Sheila almost literally freaked out. Again, I think the author was trying to express Sheila's desire to avoid temptation, but in my opinion, it came off as a complete over-reaction.
The thing I liked most about the book is that it avoided becoming preachy like many inspirational romances can be. Although Sheila had friends who voiced some displeasure over her seeing Cole, presumably because he wasn't a Christian, they never became too overt or forceful about it. Sheila herself even had some concerns initially, but ultimately, she didn't try to "change" Cole. That's not to say that she was shy about expressing her faith, but it was done in such a way that it didn't seem at all like she was trying to shove it down his throat or give him an ultimatum. On the contrary, I thought she was generally pretty accepting of him as he was, and she had another good friend who was also a non-Christian which made her appear more open-minded in general. I very much appreciated that no one tried to browbeat Cole with their beliefs, and he came to God completely of his own free will and in his own time because of their quiet show of faith.
Even though I thought Through a Glass Darkly could have been better, it wasn't a bad book. If anything, I came away from my re-read with a rather ambiguous feeling, acknowledging that it had both its good points and not-so-good points. Considering that this was Sara Mitchell's first published romance, it was a pretty decent first effort. To the best of my recollection, it is the only book by her that I have ever read, and although I may not re-read it again, I am open to trying some of her other works. In fact, I believe I have one of her more recent novels written for the Love Inspired line on my TBR, and maybe after having had more than a couple of decades to season her writing, it will be a smoother ride than this one was.
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