Pondering the power of forgiveness
In Charles Martin’s novel A Life Intercepted (Center Street Publishers, 2014, 326 pages), college senior Matthew “the Rocket” Rising has everything going for him. He’s one of the best college quarterbacks the gridiron has ever seen, the NFL has made him the number one pick in the draft, and various sports companies are salivating to have The Rocket endorse their products. Best of all, Matthew is married to Audrey, his high school sweetheart, his helpmate and anchor whose love for him seems bottomless.
Until, that is, the police arrest Matthew Rising for a terrible crime. Despite his claims of innocence, the evidence is nearly foolproof, and he is found guilty and sentenced to prison for 12 years. Audrey remains single, but refuses to have anything to do with him, at least to the best of Matthew’s knowledge.
After serving his sentence — his reputation in tatters, his career seemingly over, his wife gone — Matthew returns to his home of Gardi, Georgia, where with the help of a couple of loyal friends he tries to regain some part of his lost life. Despite the town’s hostility toward him, Matthew does make some headway in his quest to rebuild his shattered life. He tracks down Audrey, and though she still refuses to believe his claims of innocence, she at least speaks to him again. He also begins privately coaching a high school quarterback, Dalton Rogers, though because of his crime and the conditions of his parole Matthew is forbidden to be alone with minors and so jeopardizes his newly gained freedom.
During this time of recovery and redemption, Matthew remains plagued by Ginger Redman, captain of the cheerleaders in high school, member of the debate team, and number three in her class. Spurned by Matthew when they were in school together, Ginger Redman never loses her simmering hatred for Matthew and for Audrey. Now a national talk show host, she leads the attack on Matthew’s decision to return home, rousing a mob against him, determined to make him crawl away and never return.
A Life Intercepted will not appeal to everyone. A good part of the story focuses on football, which may put off some readers. Others may think the story contrived or engineered, with too many coincidences.
I am not one of these readers. A Life Intercepted struck me as an exceptionally good piece of fiction for several reasons.
First, there is the writing itself. Charles Martin tells his story in first person, and by doing so, brings Matthew Rising alive on the page. By dint of Martin’s fine writing, we experience the devastating pain of Matthew’s imploded life, his time in prison, and his difficult return to his hometown. He is a good man, a man with flaws and who misjudges some people and situations, but a man who generally tries to do the right thing, who remains loyal to his friends, who tries to understand the misguided hatred of those around him.
Martin once played football, and his abiding affection for the game and his knowledge of the skills involved on the playing field is another reason to try A Life Intercepted. Fans of the game will enjoy the flashbacks to Matthew’s football days, his feats in the prison yard with one of the guards, Gage, and his coaching of Dalton Rogers.
Another fine aspect to Martin’s novel is his treatment of today’s South. His dialogue, his descriptions of the Georgia towns and fields, the racial harmony found among many of the characters, the portraits of the townspeople: all of these have a fine-tuned feeling of someone who knows and loves this part of the country. In A Life Intercepted, Martin captures the South and gives readers a valid picture of life in today’s Dixie.
Finally, this account of a man’s ruined life should cause readers to pause and wonder how they might face such destruction. Few of us encounter the trials undergone by Matthew Rising. Few of us in America lose in one stroke — an hour, a day — everything we hold dear: our home, our livelihood, the respect of our community, the love and trust of our friends and our families, our self-respect and honor. Matthew is innocent — we know he was framed from the beginning of the novel — but innocent or not, this ordeal can kill the spirit. Martin’s portrayal of Matthew — his battles with doubt, his struggles to recover some small portion of his lost self, his regrets over what he has lost — is a vivid depiction of how quickly and savagely fate can strip away what we take for granted, leaving us to contend alone with darkness and despair.
In an “Author’s Note” at the end of A Life Intercepted, Charles Martin recounts his love of football, his hopes for his son, and his great respect for a certain friend, Dave. But his most important insight in this mini-biography has to do with forgiveness. In regard to A Life Intercepted and his own life, Martin writes:
“I am speaking from experience when I say that forgiveness offered — especially when so undeserved — cuts chains off the human heart that no other power in any universe anywhere can rattle much less break. Dave forgave me when he had every right not to. That day in Tallahassee, love did what hatred could not and never will.”
Forgiveness offered cuts chains off the human heart that no other power in any universe anywhere can rattle much less break.
Something to ponder.
Something, once pondered, for some of us to put into action.