The Calvin Becker Trilogy

February 1st, 2012

I was introduced to the writing of Frank Schaeffer via his book Crazy For God several years ago. I loved the book and wrote about it here. On that post, a reader left a comment asking me if I had read any of Schaeffer’s fiction books. I had not and I tucked that comment away in my brain in hopes that someday it would resurface at just the exactly right moment when I was in need of a new book to read.  Turns out that this winter was the exactly right moment. It took me a while to get a hold of Frank’s fiction books as the local library and local bookstores did not have any copies.  As a result, I bought used versions of the books online which is one of my favorite ways to get a hold of books anyway and have just enjoyed the ever lovin’ heck out of them.

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All three of these books deal with the same family – the Beckers who are Presbyterian missionaries to Europe where their goal is to convert the blackened souls of the European Catholics to their correct version of Calvinistic protestantism. Elsa Becker (the mother) is particularly relentless in her evangelizing of the sooted masses and is always at the ready with her “gospel walnut” or simply a long and loudly spoken prayer in a crowded train or non-stop references to her faith in conversations with every hapless stranger she happens to stand next to in line to bring the lost to her particular version of Jesus.  Her bizarre behavior makes her entire family uncomfortable including her missionary husband who grows more and more frustrated and exasperated with her pretentious martyr-like behavior and occasionally unloads on her in pubic displays that make a family of baboons seem more civilized than this upright and devout missionary family.

The books take place in gorgeous surroundings such as Portofino an Italian beach resort where the Beckers vacation every summer and Zermatt, a Swiss ski resort where an adolescent Calvin Becker encounters a hotel maid who is willing to tutor him for free in the pleasures of her flesh as she delivers his hot cocoa to his room every morning.  And speaking of sex, when Calvin’s mother is not attempting to convert a Speedo clad, well oiled Italian on the beaches of Portofino, she is usually instructing her children in appropriate sexual behaviors giving them at the same time too much information about her own sex life with their father as well as insisting that they must suppress every sexual urge they have until their wedding night. Unfortunately for her adolescent son, her endless instructions both whet his sexual appetite and prove to be impossible to follow.  As a result he spends most of his time lying, manipulating and sneaking around his mother’s strict parameters and probably having bigger and riskier adventures than he ever would have if his parents had just been sane.

My favorite of the trilogy is Saving Grandma which deals with the arrival of Ralph Becker’s (the father figure) invalid mother to the Swiss mission. Grandma Becker is not a Christian and regards her son and his missionary family as bearing “shit eating grins” as they try to convert her to a relationship with Jesus with their oh so kind and humble facades that she believes to be complete bullshit.  The trajectory in this story caterwauls like a glass marble in a house perched on a pointy mountain-top, rollicking back and forth between absolutely absurd scenarios as Elsa Becker tries at once tries to “save” her loud, sick and foul mouthed mother-in-law and also strategically and in her typically martyr like way, to hasten her demise.

But you CAN’T read Saving Grandma without reading Portofino first! It is a great story in itself and sets up the characters and why would you want to miss a beach vacation with a bunch of fundamentalists?  As my Arkansas relatives would say, these books are a hoot and a holler.  You will be hooting with laughter and hollering in pain as you watch Calvin Becker navigate the insanity of his fundy fam.

Comments

  • Priss:

    These sound terrific. I just ordered all three from paperbackswap.com. I got the last copy of Zermatt but the other two are still available as of right now. Paperbackswap is so much fun. If y’all aren’t familiar with it, do check it out. It’s not just paperbacks. I’ve gotten beautiful hardbound books from there as well.

    • Rechelle:

      Cool! Thanks Priss. I will check that out.