Great theology can come from theologians; great theology can also come from poets and storytellers. “Moon Over Manifest”, a work of historical fiction by Clare Vanderpool, is not explicitly (nor even implicitly) about God. Rising from the story like warmth from glowing coals, however, is Vanderpool’s sensitivity to theological themes, and her feel for the human journey.
A primary theme is the play between what appears to be and what is; between appearance and truth; between concealment and revelation. Manifest, of the title, is a small town in Kansas. As the story goes on, the name of the town becomes emblematic of the truth about the town’s past becoming visible– becoming manifest.
Another theme is suffering– and more specifically, that particular suffering known as grief, which comes with love and loss. Vanderpool’s characters want to distance themselves from their painful past. With help they remember what they already know: that there is no going around grief; there is only going through it. By going through it– by remembering their love and what it costs– they are healed.
Good art, like good theology, reminds us who we are as humans: what it takes to be healthy and whole; what our limits are; what we’re capable of, both for good and for ill. Forgetting who we are as humans leads us to mischief. “Moon Over Manifest” helps us remember who we are. And it’s a great story.