The Hope of Redemption

shawshank

Today is my birthday (yay!).  In addition to being overwhelmed with birthday wishes from my first birthday on social media, I also experienced my annual questioning of our birthdays anyway.  I didn’t do anything special on this day, a vaguely uncertain number of years ago.  If anything, our birthdays should be another Mother’s Day — she did all the hard work.

Nonetheless, celebrate my birthday we did.  Massages, a steak dinner, poolside cocktails with friends — a perfect weekend.  But the best gift was on Saturday night.  When my family asked what I wanted, I had one request:  that they watch The Shawshank Redemption with me.  

Shawshank is one of my favorite movies, and is rightly considered one of the best films of all time.  For those who haven’t seen it (and to you I ask, “what are you waiting for?”), it’s the story of a man sentenced to two life sentences in Shawshank prison for the murder of his wife and her lover.  But the real story is how he chooses to live his life from that moment on.

It’s not always an easy movie to watch, but in the end it’s a beautiful story of hope.  The theme of “hope” is layered throughout the movie in ways both overt and more nuanced.  When discussing the movie afterward, my daughter mentioned the word “hope” should have been in the title rather than “redemption.”

I pondered that, and seeing as this is a blog for writers, it’s worth pointing out that I had sought to address the relationship between hope and redemption in my attempt at a novel.  When I first met the lady who would later become my literary agent (yay Paula Munier!), one of the things she taught me about was the importance of theme.  What is the deep and abiding theme of my work?  How does that theme play out in the action?  In the choices characters make?  And especially, in the consequences of those choices?

I first thought that the theme of my first book would be redemption.  My main protagonist is a man who lives in self-imposed isolation, a permanent exile as punishment for deeds he considers to be unforgivable.  My story would be about his journey to restore his life and seek redemption.

But I soon realized that my character, like many of us in real life, struggle with even accepting redemption in our lives.  So the destination for him became not the seemingly unattainable goal of actually accepting that his past had been fully redeemed, but to accept the mere possibility that forgiveness might be possible.  The hint of grace.  The hope of redemption.

That hope, whether expressed in a great film, demonstrated by friends and mentors, or pounded out during hours at a computer keyboard has had a profound impact on my life.  I believe that hope is what drives us, sustains us, and inpsires us.  That hope is what I wanted to share with my kids over the weekend.  And, if the fates allow, it’s what I will endeavor to share with readers.  And if I can manage to share a glimpse of hope in a gritty, Southern-fried private eye novel, well… won’t that be a nice trick?

–Ben Keller

14 thoughts on “The Hope of Redemption

  1. Wonderfully thoughtful post, Ben. Themes in novels can be tricky. Get too deep into it and it overwhelms the story. Make it too subtle and it’s lost to most readers. Try to force a theme on characters and it feels artificial. As you’ve discovered, what a story is about is the plot, but what a story is REALLY about is the theme. I can tell you’ve got it.

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  2. I can’t wait to read this book. This sounds like the kind of story that we read, not wanting to look but unable to take our eyes off the action. The very best kind of story!!!!

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  3. I read Susan Breen’s comment above…. her character lives near water…. albeit in the Northeast…. maybe your character can sail north and they can meet at some point. A double redemption novel!

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    1. Thanks, Tracee. That’s a fun idea! I remember one of my most enjoyable fanboy moments was when Michael Connelly and Robert Crais referenced each other’s main characters in their respective novels. We should remember that in the age of summer blockbuster movies having “shared universes”, mystery and thriller writers did it first!

      -Ben

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