"If my work has a theme, I suspect it is a simple one: that most human beings are inescapably alone, and therein lies their tragedy." (Yates in Boston Review, October, 1999). Should Christians be reading novels with themes this bleak?
It is true that joy (not alienation) should be the central theme of the Christian life. But joy that turns a blind eye to sorrow doesn't suit the reality of life in a broken world. Novels like Revolutionary Road are worth reading because they remind us of our true condition apart from Christ. Sin alienates us from God, and that's why even though we know that Christ has brought us near, we often get the feeling we are "inescapably alone." I need to be reminded of the gospel everyday--that although we turn away again and again, God draws us near again and again. My college roommate and I wrote a song called "Come Closer" that never made it to tape. That's what God is kindly saying to us as we look to the cross.
Books like this also generate compassion for people who feel (and often are) alone. How often in Christian circles does "ministry" get defined ONLY in terms of sharing a four point gospel plan? We've forgotten that alienation is one of the primary roads the gospel travels. One of the hymns we sing on Tuesday nights has this verse: "Let sorrow do its work, come grief or pain; Sweet are Thy messengers, sweet their refrain, When they can sing with me: More love, O Christ, to Thee.
Often grief and pain themselves are messengers that call us back to Christ. But when we see others suffering, they are also a call to show compassion.
We should be regularly reacquainting ourselves with the weight of the Fall. It will make our joy weightier and our hearts more compassionate.