Tuesday, July 15, 2014

At Home in Mitford, by Jan Karon

Whenever I'm asked what my favorite modern authors are, I always forget my very favorite, Jan Karon. This lady, author of the famous Mitford series, has brought readers to a little Southern town for decades, and given them laughter and sorrow and rest with her Episcopalian priest and his friends.

My mom first introduced us to At Home in Mitford by reading it aloud. Oh, how we all laughed together. Over the last couple of weeks, I had the chance to re-live the magic and read the book once again. And today, I'd like to share it with all of you.

If you've not yet read Jan Karon, you're in store for a real treat.

The Story
From the back cover:  It’s easy to feel at home in Mitford. In these high, green hills, the air is pure, the village is charming, and the people are generally lovable.
Yet, Father Tim, the bachelor rector, wants something more. Enter a dog the size of a sofa who moves in and won’t go away. Add an attractive neighbor who begins wearing a path through the hedge. Now stir in a lovable but unloved boy, a mystifying jewel theft, and a secret that’s sixty years old.
Suddenly, Father Tim gets more than he bargained for. And readers get a rich comedy in which mysteries and miracles abound.

My Thoughts
As an Amazon reviewer said about this book, "It's good medicine." And it is. One of those remarkable fiction books that feeds your faith and your soul while not compromising the integrity of a good plot and interesting characters. If you're looking for proof that the age of Christian fiction is not compromised without recall, I would point you straight to Mitford.

Here's why: integrity is the word that wraps all around this book and breaths through its very essence; and not as the main theme of the plot, but as the main outpouring of the author's writing style. Karon writes real life with real care for making it true and accurate. The people in At Home in Mitford are gritty and kind, and mixed-up and redeemed and lost, from the most seasoned pastor to the simplest gas station mechanic. She has characters who come to salvation, and characters who don't believe in God. She has broken lives, and good, stable families. She has women who work and women who stay home. In other words, she has reality, and that's a precious gem. She teaches through a variety of life circumstances, and this integrity resonates with millions of readers.

But reality in itself isn't enough, and Karon shows that Christianity and Christian thought are not things to be ashamed of when writing fiction. Some people try to get around their Christian faith by allegorizing it, or symbolizing it; some people just legitimately can't put it into words. But Karon unashamedly quotes Oswald Chambers and Charles Spurgeon, uses the salvation prayer, writes many of Father Tim's prayers and thoughts down, and so richly nourishes her readers that you feel as if you've come away fellowshipping with the Lord as well as enjoying a fictional tale.

Take note, folks. It's worthy of imitation for all of us who are writers.

I've always loved small town stories with gossip and different church denominations, feuds and sweethearts, old and young. It's the little details that make this book one beautiful, symphonic whole, and Winnie Ivey's cream horns, Jena Ivey's roses, and Esther Bolick's orange marmalade cake are as important as the stolen jewels and medical crises to make this an enjoyable read. The characterizations and narrative are detailed and well written, and give beautiful atmosphere to the main plot of Father Tim's seeking spiritual renewal in his parish.

Be aware that along with the 'realness' of this tale, there are some gritty parts you may wish to edit in a read-aloud. Dooley Barlowe, the eleven-year-old boy Father Tim takes in, comes from such a broken home that his words are full of crude slang, and even swearing once or twice. There are a couple of instances of profanity, and altogether this book should be screened by an adult first before passing it on to the younger set. Some of the plot lines are mature, though not inappropriate. Hints at an illegitimate baby, abandoned children, and Miss Sadie's beautiful love story are all appreciated with greater maturity, so let a younger reader grow into it before passing it on to them.

At Home in Mitford resonated with me even more this time than it did when we read it aloud together. When one of the characters said to Father Tim, "You look like you're too tired to run and too afraid to rest," I thought oh, yeah. And the phrase has run like a refrain in my head ever since.Father Tim struggled with a very relatable guilt when he tried to take a break and there was so much to get done.

Oftentimes taking a break is not an unwillingness to rest, but a guilty inability to enjoy anything that is not strictly necessary.When we don't take breaks, we don't give God a chance to work, and He wants us to take delight in simply restful things. Father Tim didn't take a break until outside circumstances forced him to. But we don't have to wait that long.

I wrote a longer article on the subject of rest which you can find here.

Focus on the Family Audio Drama
Focus on the Family Radio Theatre dramatized At Home in Mitford. It's a charming audio drama, with Dean Jones playing Father Tim; and the girl who plays Jo March in their adaptation of Little Women does a really good Puny Bradshaw. However, it leaves out the poignant drama of Miss Sadie's love story and a few of the best plots. I enjoyed listening to it, but it doesn't replace the book, so be sure to pick up the novel.

Jan Karon is releasing her newest Mitford chronicle, Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good, in September of this year. Though slower in coming, the Mitford chronicles aren't yet over. And I am glad.

Blessings,
Lady Bibliophile

8 comments:

  1. I will definitely be looking for that book next time I'm at the library. Charles Spurgeon, and Oswald Chambers are some of my favorite Christian authors! Love reading your post :)
    God bless-
    Hannah Sue

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    1. I hope you enjoy the book! It's one of my favorites. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. :)

      ~Schuyler

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  2. I loved reading this all together that one summer! :) Jan Karon has such relatable characters and she's such fun to read. I'm glad you were able to go through "At Home in Mitford" again and relive the magic. Father Tim is so great to spend time with. :)

    Love,
    Sister

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    1. He is indeed, and I hope we're able to read book 3 soon! :)

      Love,
      Sister

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  3. I love the Mitford books. I love Father Tim, I love the all-church fellowships, and I love the sofa-sized dog. I love it when the ladies are all in the hospital guessing the recipe for the marmalade cake. I love Olivia Davenport and Emma Garrett and Uncle Billy. I love the day the computer gets destroyed. These books have made me laugh and cry. The people are so real...I always come away with an urge to write a story like that. Your lovely review makes me want to read them again!

    ~The Philologist

    P.S. Emily has the recipe for Esther Bolick's marmalade cake and has made it for us. I never expected that a real cake could live up to the legend, but I was wrong. It was maybe the best thing I have ever tasted. :)

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  4. Jan Karon's Mitford series is one of the most classic, well-used examples of good writing at the writer's conference I go to every year. There's definitely a reason why. :)

    Some of those things you mentioned I haven't gotten to yet, and I'm very intrigued. But your mention of Uncle Billy put me in mind of one of my very favorite quotes: "I gave her my word, don't ya know." Such a true and simple-hearted man.

    I remember that cake! And if I recall correctly, it was for your birthday last year. :)

    Glad you enjoyed the review.

    ~Schuyler

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  5. I've actually never heard of this series before, but am always looking for some contemporary fiction that I'll actually like. I might look for this at the library.

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    1. I hope you like this one! We love the characters. :)

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