Into Captivity They Will Go
Initially, I was interested in Into Captivity They Will Go by Noah Milligan because it’s set in Oklahoma, my home state. The book centers on Caleb Gunter, a preteen who is told by his mother Evelyn that the world is ending, and he is the second coming of Jesus. Even in the buckle of the bible belt, such a pronouncement doesn’t sit well, and the First Baptist Church in Bartlesville excommunicates the Gunter family. Leaving her husband Earl and older son Jonah behind, Evelyn takes Caleb to a rural religious community run by her stepfather’s friend, Sam Jenkins. The people there are more accepting of Evelyn’s message, and Caleb, speaking in tongues, lost in the spirit, and lifted up by the other congregants, finally feels at home.
Evelyn’s homilies, however, grow more extreme, and as her prophecies darken, she views the outside community with more and more suspicion. Meanwhile, Caleb struggles to accept what it means to be the savior who will lead the chosen people after the end of the world. After a series of cataclysmic events, Caleb loses everything familiar, including the foundation of his faith.
While the first two thirds of the book recount Caleb’s childhood and are told in third person, the final section gives Caleb a first-person voice and more insight into his reactions to the events surrounding him. I couldn’t help but think how damaged Caleb must be and how tempting it was to fall into old patterns of behavior, substituting one false god for another. He’s calm and accepting of his past, which is hard to understand, but Atchley, a character he later becomes close to, may provide the reader’s perspective wondering how he isn’t angry and resentful.
Throughout the book, I wondered why Evelyn had taken this religious path, but then I also asked myself if it mattered. Whatever the cause, Caleb was left to cope with the impact of her beliefs and actions and how they affected him; they also rippled into the family, changing the lives of Earl and Jonah, and beyond, so that others in the community were never the same.
One of the triumphs of the book is that Milligan writes with such compassion and empathy that is impossible to write any characters off as one-dimensional, fringe, or unbelievable. I thought that I would immediately feel anger and contempt for Evelyn. Instead, while I did feel some of that on behalf of Caleb, even more, I considered her with empathy and curiosity. Caleb’s general placidity evokes an air of forgiveness and acceptance, and despite the travails of his childhood, it seems that attitude serves him well. Furthermore, I loved the subtle Oklahoman references Into Captivity They Will Go such as the primacy of Dr. Pepper, the references to concerts at the Blue Door, the constant calibration of weather, and the love of Sonic and Braum’s.
Even though I did grow up in Oklahoma, I went to a relatively liberal church (for that state anyway), and I wasn’t familiar with the biblical passages from Revelations. I had to look up the seven seals to fully understand Evelyn’s references. I also wish that some of the characters, like Earl, had been more developed. The shift from third person to first person was a little jarring and unexpected, and Caleb seemed like such a different person, also with time passing and experience gained, the change did made sense once I reflected on it. Finally, some details concerning spatial and time relationships were confusing, but that may be a function of the advance copy I read and will be corrected in the printed version.
Readers who enjoy literary fiction, coming of age stories, narratives about extreme religion, and of course, books set in Oklahoma should read Into Captivity They Will Go.
Thank you to NetGalley and Central Avenue Publishing for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.