A Brief Review of
Reviewed by Jonathan Schindler.
Hear No Evil chronicles former CCM editor Matthew Paul Turner’s life following the common thread of music. Raised in an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist family, Turner tells stories that are by turns laugh-out-loud funny, poignant, and scarier than a Jack Chick tract. Turner’s honest memoir does not offer easy answers or canned take-aways, but his winsome writing, sharp wit, and keen observations provide enough material to laugh and think about for days after the book is closed.
Hear No Evil is comprised of fifteen memoir-essays on faith and music. While they are all variations on the same theme and are in roughly chronological order, each essay serves as a snapshot rather than a continuation. There is little connection between one essay and another. (This is not a David Copperfield kind of memoir. Its closer kin is David Sedaris’s books.) Because of this, “the point” may be hard to find, and at times the essays close without resolution. This lack of closure may be a turn-off for some readers, but I found the open-endedness refreshing. Like Jesus’ parables, we are told what happened up to a point; the rest is left for the reader to decide how he or she will live.
I mentioned that “the point” may be hard to find—but I certainly am not referring to the sharpness of the writing. Turner uses humor to examine his life in music so far. He relates the crush he had on Sandi Patty (which he had to hide from the members of his church), the excitement at hearing George Michael’s “Faith” on the radio and wondering if it was a Christian song, the purchase/guilt cycle he experienced when he bought/threw away Amy Grant’s album Heart in Motion several times, and God’s calling on his life to be the Christian Michael Jackson.
Humor is double-edged, and the line between surgery and stabbing is sometimes hard to discern, but Turner does a surprisingly good job walking the fine line between destructive and constructive uses. Turner’s first essay of the book, “Overture,” is probably the most cynical and made me unsure of the contents of the rest of the book. (In the essay he describes what could be an almost typical occurrence at a Nashville coffee shop: He sees someone come in, ill at ease in his rock-star regalia, and immediately pegs him as a “Christian rocker.”) This essay caused unease at the beginning of the book, but by the end, I could understand much better where Turner was coming from.
Turner’s essays are laced with vivid nostalgia. There were several times while reading this book that I was taken back to my own childhood in the church, and while the names of the congregants are different, I could picture these people in my own life. And Turner treats them like people. They are not stark images or abstract ideas to make a point (“Jim is Greed, Sandy is Fame, Bill is Hypocrisy,” and so on); they are paradoxes wrapped in flesh, as all humans are. His sensitive treatment of his “subjects” is what makes Hear No Evil work. Instead of a rant (which a book like this could have easily become), it is a rehabilitation.
Turner clearly loves the church—spots, wrinkles, blemishes, and all—and while he laughs at its foibles, it’s the kind of laughter that comes from the inside, not the outside—laughing with, not laughing at. Hear No Evil may not resonate with everyone (it seems to be aimed at twenty/thirty-somethings), but I thoroughly enjoyed it for its honesty and wit and reveled through the therapy of all 225 pages.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com