Friday, November 25, 2011

A Light in the Window

A Light in the Window
© 1996 Jan Karon
446 pages

A few weeks ago I read At Home in Mitford,  a novel which offers a charming escape from the noise, pollution, and chaos of everyday life into a small town which progress has happily forgotten. In the village of Mitford, downtown is still alive and thriving with businesses. People begin their mornings by walking or driving to the main street cafe, where they see their neighbors. Groceries come not from factories and Wal-Mart, but from the Local -- another main street establishment which gets its produce from local farms. There's no great drama driving the book, only the reader's enjoyment of ordinary people living their simple lives. The drama is mundane, yet compelling; the characters eccentric and lovable. They aren't sexy spies or latern-jawed action heroes: they're secretaries with tempers,  old ladies with history, and -- at least in one case -- a portly priest, the rector of the local Episcopal parish.

Father Tim is the center character of the Mitford series, and the first novel introduced him as a kind, wise, but lonely man who slowly found joy as he became the master of a dog, the guardian of a boy, and the neighbor of a fun-loving children's author who moved next door. The neighbor, Cynthia, offers Tim a source of emotional intimacy he's hard-up for, since in Mitford it is he that people confide in. Who counsels the counselor?  In A Light in the Window, author Jan Karon moves the focus from Mitford proper and tightens in on the growing relationship between Tim and his neighbor. There's still drama to be had in town, of course, when the Main Street Grill is imperiled.

As said, the Mitford series is escapism: but for someone like me, such escapism is quite attractive. I delight in Mitford's old-fashioned human-sized community, as well as the gentle classiness of its lead character -- a man who is appalled at the idea of using something even so modern as a microwave oven. I can't imagine walking down the street in Mitford and seeing everyone holding some gadget to their face and not noticing the world around them.

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