Kelly Loy Gilbert’s Conviction is a novel that covers any number of sensitive topics, from faith to familial abuse, from homosexuality to racism. There are few punches pulled in the book, and it centers the narrative around both a baseball season and a murder trial. There will be SPOILERS for this thought-provoking book in what follows.
Baseball and Conviction
The plot centers around Braden as he waits to testify in his father’s murder trial. His father, Martin Scott Raynor, Jr., is accused of intentionally running over and killing a police officer during a traffic stop. Meanwhile, the dead cop’s nephew plays baseball for the major rival team that Braden has to prepare to defeat. Braden is a pitcher, and many of the anecdotes in the book center around Braden’s experiences in baseball.
Indeed, many of the moments throughout the book where baseball is discussed are linked directly to faith and conviction. For example, years before the events of the book, Braden prayed for a sign from God and was at a San Francisco Giants game when a home run ball landed in his glove. He took it as a sign that his family would not fall apart. It did. Another example is Braden’s own focus on pitching and how it puts him in stark relief against the universe.
Conviction and Messiness
Above I mentioned that Braden had asked for a sign and felt he’d received it. Yet the interpretation he layered over the sign did not stand up to reality. His family–his dad Mart, and his brother Trey–did indeed fall apart spectacularly. But towards the end of the book, Braden realized that his interpretation had been too simplistic. It would be easier to walk away from God in disappointment, but that didn’t reflect the reality that Braden experienced.
What struck me most about Conviction is how uncomfortable it made me. It demonstrates, time and again, the messiness of a world that has been infected with sin. Braden’s father clearly cares about he and Trey, but he’s also both physically and verbally abusive. Mart also makes clearly racist statements at times, and these statements are never clearly condemned. Gilbert has written a subtler book than that. Readers are left to read the story and come to their own conclusions. Hints are left, but what Gilbert has done is present the world in all of its messiness. It would make me more comfortable if she had revealed clearly where her own stances were, but instead we are left with a plot and characters that feel remarkably like the real world. The real world is not so easy to put in individual boxes and definitions.
Perhaps that is what Gilbert does best, then, in Conviction. She portrays a world sin has infected by showing us broken people who don’t deserve grace. Nevertheless, grace is shown to them by a God who is near.
…I think about how with my dad, and with Trey, no matter what either one of them ever does I think I’ll still feel exactly the same way about them that I always have. I know it shouldn’t be like that because it isn’t safe, and because I think most other people get to choose who they care about and when to stop and it’s not fair… I think that’s the worst and the most dangerous thing I know.
But I hope–I hope–that’s something like what God feels about me. (327)
These lines are so poignant because of all that has come before them. Braden realizes that he loves his family unconditionally, and hopes that God feels that way about him.
Indeed, the love of God is one of the most prominent themes throughout the Bible, and Braden’s thoughts on this matter reflect, I think, the kind of existential reality that all Christians must live in. We realize that though we are sinners, God has declared us saints.
Conviction is one of those rare novels that will keep you thinking about the story and characters long after you have read the book. I think it is one of the most honest, heart-rending books I have read. It comes highly recommended.
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