"It is a memorable, heartbreaking, and ultimately redemptive novel about finding sustenance and friendship in the most surprising places..."
And my husband rolled his eyes. "Redemptive!" he said. "How can a book be redemptive?" He went on to say that he's tired of hearing this word used to describe novels: not only is it overdone, it's simply the wrong word.
First, hubby is correct that this word is being overused to describe books now: once he pointed it out to me, I started seeing it everywhere: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, The Language of Flowers, The Snow Child, The Burgess Boys, The Good House. All these are new and popular novels, all described as "redemptive." I've read most of them, and what these books actually have in common is they feature sad-sack characters who are better off by the end. They're feel-good books.
So why aren't the books described that way? Why use that specific word? "Redemption" means "salvation" or "atonement," at least when it's not being used in the fiscal sense. Either you are redeeming yourself, by righting a wrong, or someone is redeeming you—and I think only deities are allowed to do that. So the word has a religious flavor. And in that sense, it is pretty weird to apply it to a book: Does the book erase sin from the reader's heart? That's quite a job, for a book! Even the Bible doesn't claim to do that, at least not merely by the reading of it.
"I think they mean the novels are about redemption," I said to my husband.
"That's doesn't make sense, though," he responded. "If a novel is about water, you don't describe the novel as wet."
I hadn't thought about it that way before. But it's true: If a book was about abuse, you wouldn't call it abusive. If a book was about adoption, you wouldn't call it adoptive. So what is behind this use of "redemptive?" Are people hoping these books will redeem them, somehow? As if, by being shown someone else's redemption, we can find our own? Or is there something else behind the sudden uptick in this book-blurb adjective?