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Thursday, November 09, 2006

The precursor to this novel is At Home in Mitford, a refreshing and amusing story of a small-town Episcopal priest that I read last year. Father Tim is a good-natured, reverent, and generous person who excels in showing kindness to others and applying his faith to his everyday activities. Lauren Winner, author of Girl Meets God and Real Sex, has written on several occasions that the Mitford series was instrumental to her becoming a Christian. Unfortunately, A Light in the Window, the second book in the series, was a disappointment.

The book was very difficult to read because much of the plot was strained and far-fetched. The author appears to feel the need to invent artificial obstacles to the inevitable engagement between Father Tim and Cynthia. It was unfathomable why Cynthia, a woman whom Father Tim praises for her understanding, kindness, and inventiveness, would lapse into juvenile petulance without warning. One moment Cynthia is sweetly concocting birthday plans, and the next she’s storming off in a huff or rudely hanging up on Father Tim. With little justification, Cynthia pouts about his lack of commitment and emotional reticence. And then there’s this ridiculous subplot involving a rich and devious widow, Edith Mallory, who can’t wait to get her clutches on Father Tim. Also, people seem to have an unrealistic relationship to money. They go about sending dozens of red roses left and right, or flying up to New York for a spontaneous surprise visit, or flying a perfect stranger into small-town Mitford from Italy. Too, too contrived.

The thing about Mitford is that it is very... pleasant. Everything, though it might seem shaky for a while, eventually turns out all right. Stunningly all right, in fact. This trait was comforting through the first book, but the second comes across as saccharine and improbable.

Now, it could be that I’m being too hard on this book, which is part of a very popular series. The character inconsistencies that bothered me so much could really be a reflection of how people behave in real life. Even well-meaning people can act immaturely and even rudely. And I congratulate Jan Karon for writing a book that affirms the capacity of humans for kindness and generosity. But I won’t be reading the rest of her series.

Title:A Light in the Window
Author:Jan Karon
Date published:1998
Series:The Mitford Years
Number of pages:400
Notes:2nd in series


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