The Death and Life of Gabriel Phillips Review
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Just as the Kennedys were once the political family, the Baldwins are the Hollywood family. You can hardly turn on your TV or watch a movie or read a magazine without one of them popping up. Over the last couple of decades, we’ve witnessed their marriages, their divorces, their custody battles, and their struggles with everything from weight loss to addiction. And after 9/11, when Stephen Baldwin announced that he’d been born again, it seemed like just another Baldwin stunt. In the years since, however, he’s only grown more outspoken about his faith. He’s used his celebrity status to reach out and share his faith. And now, with the help of co-author Mark Tabb, he’s trying his hand at Christian fiction.

Baldwin’s first novel, The Death and Life of Gabriel Phillips, follows a small-town cop in his quest for justice. While working the late shift one night, Officer Andy Myers is called out to a rundown apartment complex on the edge of town. It seems like just another routine call—until he enters the apartment. He’s greeted by John Phillips, who calmly answers the door and leads Andy down the hall to a tiny bedroom, where a little boy lies on his bed, surrounded by what seems like a lake of blood.

Witnessing something like that would be hard for anyone, but it’s even harder for Andy—because he knows the little boy. He’s Gabriel Phillips, the sweet, innocent son of Loraine, the woman whom Andy had been seeing.

Though John claims that Gabe suffered from night terrors—and that he was killed when he fell from his bed and hit his head on a drawer—Andy doesn’t believe his story. And after Loraine accuses John of killing Gabe to punish her for leaving him, Andy vows to do everything he can to fight for justice.

This story of forgiveness and redemption is built on a strong foundation, but it’s awkward in its execution. Perhaps the strangest thing about the story is its storyteller: Andy’s unnamed son, who never even met his father until years later. The fact that he wasn’t there—and that he never plays a part in the story—makes him a strange choice for the story’s narrator. I kept thinking that there had to be a good reason for it—that the point of his storytelling would all come out in the end—but it’s never really explained. He’s just telling the story to some faceless listener.

But the characters, too, make Gabriel Phillips a difficult story to grasp. Though readers follow Andy throughout the story, he never really feels real. We find out a little bit about his past, but we never really get to know him or understand his motivation. Even harder to understand, however, is John Phillips, the ex-con who found faith in prison. As I read the story, I knew that I was supposed to see John as a righteous man whose faith was the most important thing in his life, but he didn’t seem to be the slightest bit human. I’ve spent my life in the church, surrounded by devoutly religious people, but I don’t know a single one who would just stand there, completely at peace, after witnessing his or her young son’s death. After all, even Jesus himself wept over his friend’s death. And maybe I was supposed to admire John for not defending himself during his trial—for leaving everything in God’s hands—but that, too, made him feel totally unreal. Had John been more realistic—devout yet still human—it could have made for a powerful story. Instead, Baldwin just lays it on a bit too thick.

While I admire the sentiment behind The Death and Life of Gabriel Phillips, I just couldn’t get beyond its awkward execution. The story moves slowly, and the choppy writing style and implausible characters make for an uncomfortable read. Though I have a feeling that Stephen Baldwin has some great stories to tell, unfortunately, this isn’t one of them.

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