Dean’s Book Club Book Review by Ann Katherine Reimers
The Dean’s Book Club is currently reading At Home in Mitford, by Jan Karon, a warm and loving look into the lives of a small town’s Episcopal parish rector, Father Tim Kavanagh, his congregation, and others in the close-knit community. Weaving with the rector through the lives of the residents of Mitford and its outskirts, the reader is drawn into their individual and collective routines and dramas, joys and woes, degradations and transformations.
At Home in Mitford is the first in a series of nine books about Father Tim and his congregants in Mitford, a picturesque town in North Carolina, on the slopes of the Appalachian Mountains.
It’s easy to love the parishioners and their Baptist and Presbyterian neighbors, who work together and know each other’s business, socialize, gossip and condemn, forgive and reconcile with each other in unique and real ways. They are wealthy, middle-class, and poor, generous, selfish, and suspicious, gracious, abrasive, stable and secure, and barely holding on.
Mitford is every small town, and none at all, a fictionalization of where everyone and anyone who craves intimacy and community, tradition and continuity, might want to live.
In addition to his ministrations to his parishioners and others in his parish town, we share the transformations and revelations of Father Tim himself, as he finds love and inner healing at 62, after 36 years in the pulpit, 13 of them in Mitford, with a buoyant, youthful new neighbor, Cynthia Coppersmith. A successful author and illustrator of children’s books, Cynthia moves into the little yellow house next door to the rectory, left to her by her grandfather, and enraptures and captures the rector’s heart.
Their love story becomes the reader’s love story; their challenges the reader’s challenges; their triumphs, the reader’s triumphs. The book evokes laughter and tears, ahas! and oh, nos! When Barnabas, Father Tim’s enormous, foundling dog, most probably the only dog anywhere unfailingly brought to heel by Scripture, bathes Father Tim’s face with his tongue, we feel equally bathed; when he takes in young Dooley Barlowe, whose mother is an alcoholic and the grandfather with whom he’s been living is hospitalized, we experience the enormous change in his lifelong bachelor’s existence; as his life opens and expands, ours opens and expands with it, as well.
Truth be told, I’ve just finished the fifth book in the series, A New Song. I expect you’ll feel equally compelled to follow the story from the first through the ninth book, eager to find out what happens next to the Mitford residents who, through their relationships with Father Tim, become people you care about and love, none more than Father Tim and bride, Cynthia. New characters appear, as well as new parishes, as Father Tim changes and expands his ministry.
The book is as rich with references to Scripture (“Philippians 4:13, for Pete’s sake!” Father Tim frequently admonishes), wry wit and humor that will have you laughing out loud, and poignant revelations that bring tears to both characters and readers.
I highly recommend the experience, reading, believing, transfiguring, and otherwise.
Posted on Saturday, November 24, 2012