Can We Ever Escape the Past?
Inescapable (Road to Kingdom Book #1) by Nancy Mehl is the story of Lizzie Engel's escape from her past in the Old Order Mennonite Town of Kingdom, to Kansas City to start a new life. She returns with fear again to Kingdom when a new threat emerges in Kansas City. Through most of the book, Lizzie lives under the shadow of Kingdom as it used to be. Gradually she learns that just as she is changing, the town she left is also changing. Though she never escapes her past, she is finally able to embrace the town and escape into a future where her emotional wounds can heal.
Why Did Lizzie Leave Kingdom? Why Does She Want to Return?
Lizzie was born in Kingdom, Kansas, to Old Order Mennonite parents. Her father was an elder of the church and one who could be depended upon to join with those who were the strictest in enforcing the Ordnung -- a set of unwritten rules of behavior the faithful were expected to follow. He had always treated Lizzie harshly. Throughout the book, every time Lizzie does something she feels might be wrong, her father's voice seems to reprove her or call her stupid or wicked. Her mother was more gentle, but was also intimidated by her husband on the rare occasions when she tried to intervene.
Lizzie left Kingdom in disgrace. She was pregnant after being seduced by Clay Troyer, whom she'd gone to school with in Washington. When Troy and his family learned Lizzie was pregnant, they suddenly left the area without even a good-bye. Her mother was sad. Her father was silently condemning. The looks of the other church members were disapproving. So Lizzie took her daughter Charity and fled to Kansas City, where she started a new life. She was determined that Charity would not live under the same shadow of disapproval she herself had always felt.
As this book begins, Lizzie is fleeing again with Charity. Although she had found a happy life in Kansas City and had a good job and friends, she had reason to be afraid again. At all costs she wants to protect Charity. Two things have shaken her world.
The first is that her boss Sylvia at Harbor House, a women's shelter, has suffered her second heart attack and resigned. Sylvia had been her first friend in Kansas City. They had met when Lizzie was a waitress at Betty's Cafe, her first job in the city. Lizzie was almost running it herself by then. Lizzie gave Betty notice, and joined Sylvia at Harbor House.
After Sylvia left, she was replaced by Reba, who got along with no one. After Reba's boyfriend appeared too interested in Lizzie, Reba accuses Lizzie of stealing a thousand dollars that is missing, and the books make it appear that Lizzie is guilty. Lizzie knows she is being framed, but does not know how to prove her innocence. She is afraid charges will be brought against her and they might take Charity away from her.
Around the same time her troubles at work started, Lizzie began to be stalked by a man in a red baseball cap. He would stand across the street and stare at her apartment. Threatening letters began to appear in blue envelopes with no return address. One letter read:" I'm watching you. It's just a matter of time before I get you and your little girl. You'll never get away from me." (From Chapter 2)
Lizzie quits her job and manages to get a last paycheck. After going home and getting the last threatening letter from her mailbox, she sees the man in the red hat, holds the letter in the air, and yells at him, "Why are you doing this? What do you want?" She threatened to call the police. He took a step back and she took a step off the curb. She was struck by a car and everything went black.
Next thing she knew, her landlady was standing over her. Someone had called an ambulance. She didn't feel she needed to be looked at and refused treatment because she didn't have money to pay for it. The man in the red cap was gone. She returns to her apartment in pain, and gets Charity into bed before looking at her bruised hip in the bathroom. As she berates herself for her stupidity, she hears the echo of her father's voice, "How could you be so stupid, Elizabeth? How could a daughter of mine be so ignorant?" She tells herself her father may have been right. Even though her childhood in Kingdom had been painful, she suddenly longed to be there again.
Then Lizzie seemed to hear another voice, a voice that sounded different than her father's. It urged her to go home and assured her everything would be all right. She couldn't imagine how things could turn out all right. She had left an outcast, the fallen daughter of an elder. But she still hears the insistent voice saying, "Go home, Lizzie. Go home."
The only thing Lizzie had left in life that she cared about was Charity, and she was determined to keep her safe. She felt there was only one road left she could take now -- the road back to Kingdom.
Although Lizzie had always been subject to verbal abuse and had often been severely punished by her father, she did believe her mother loved her. Although the Old Order Mennonite Community had been repressive and made Lizzie feel stifled, she still did have friends there. She also felt it was a safe haven.
Kingdom (which is as far as I can tell a fictional town) is in Northern Kansas , about ten miles south of Nebraska. It is a long buggy ride from Washington, where many of Kingdom’s children went to school. It is an isolated community. You’d never find the turn-off from the highway for the road that leads to Kingdom unless you already knew where it is. Lizzie was sure her enemies would not find her in Kingdom.
Another reason Lizzie expected Kingdom to be a safe place was that the Mennonite community protected its own. In this small town of only 300, strangers were obvious. They were usually met by a church elder who intended to determine what their business was in Kingdom. It was not a good place for a stranger to hide. Though Lizzie may have been considered by some a black sheep, she knew the town would do their best to protect her and Charity. A stranger who was determined to be up to no good would be escorted out.
When Lizzie had left, the winds of change were in the air. Some of the younger church members were beginning to believe the rules should not be so strict. Maybe women should be able to wear lighter colors. Maybe farmers should be able to use tractors. Maybe modern plumbing wasn’t immoral. Maybe telephones weren’t sinful.
When Lizzie had left, her father, Matthew had been a very powerful and influential elder. When she returned those of his persuasion were beginning to be less influential. The church was on the verge of a crisis in leadership. The members of the congregation were not as judgmental as they had been when she left. They welcomed her back.
When Lizzie arrived in Kingdom again, she had only planned to stay as long as it took her to be sure her name had been cleared of stealing the money back in Kansas City and she no longer felt threatened by the man in the red hat. But her experience back in Kingdom gave her a reason to stay.
My Review of Inescapable
I have laid the background. You know why Lizzie left Kingdom and why she returned. The rest of the book shows you her new life there. She has relationships to mend, especially with her parents, Matthew and Anna. She gets a job working in a cafe again, and finds a friend in its owner Cara Menlo, who had warmly welcomed her back home. Cara also provided a place to live above the cafe.
Lizzie's old friend Noah sees her in the cafe and welcomes her back. They had done everything together as children. It is obvious to the reader that he has been and is still in love with Lizzie – in spite of the fact her child was conceived by another man when she was in her teens.
Even though the love shines from Noah’s eyes and everyone can see it there, Lizzie insists on believing he couldn’t love her because she thought they had never been more than just friends. I call this kind of misunderstanding, which I’ve seen in book after book I’ve been reading, a contrived obstacle to keep the plot moving. Perhaps Lizzie is just afraid to believe Noah loves her. So I’ll play along to keep the plot moving.
Had she not dismissed and insisted on misinterpreting Noah’s attention to her when they reunited, he would have courted her and they probably would have married soon after. This would not have solved all her problems, but it would have made much of what happened after that in the book unnecessary. It would have removed her sense of danger and given her daughter Charity a father. She would not have felt she needed to flee again, and she would not have been tempted to make another big mistake. But then there would have been no need for the author to write the rest of the book.
That brings up another contrived obstacle that is often used in fiction. That would be the obstacle of a decision made. A character says she will marry someone or take a job and it’s as though she now has no choice but to follow through, no matter what new information might be revealed. After Charity’s father, Clay, tracks Lizzie down and appears on the scene with excuses for leaving and lies about what he intended, he persuades her to marry him and come to Seattle with him where she and Charity will be safe from the danger that follows her. (Another blue envelope has showed up in Kingdom.) He claims to love her.
Lizzie is torn, but wants what’s best for Charity. Noah has not yet declared his love, and Clay has turned on the charm and convinced Lizzie she does still love him. Noah sees the danger of losing Lizzie and finally speaks his piece to her, declaring his love and proposing. She turns him down even though she loves him because she’s already decided it’s best to marry Charity’s father. Noah has warned her that Clay is a bad apple and she would regret marrying him, but Lizzie ignores her heart. She only realizes the truth when Clay’s lies become apparent and she sees his real motivation.
To tell you more would ruin the story. There is still a family to put back together, since Matthew would not permit Lizzie into their home. And Lizzie’s heart also needs to be put back together as she finds that God is not like her earthly father Matthew.
I would recommend this book if you like Christian fiction that deals with troubled relationships, has a bit of romance, and illustrates how God can redeem any situation. Kingdom is a refuge, but danger does arrive, and there is plenty of suspense to keep you reading to the end.