May 5, 2012

Book Review: At Home in Mitford (by Jan Karon)

Posted in Book Reviews, Watermarks in Progress tagged , , at 10:25 pm by Tamara

Title: At Home in Mitford

Author: Jan Karon

Genre: Christian Fiction

Star Verdict (out of five): ****

For: Fans of James Herriot, Love Comes Softly series, anyone who needs a relaxing, uplifting read.

After a round of books about Nazi Germany, Abnormal Psychology, human trafficking, abused children, etc., I really needed something uplifting, and the Mitford series has perfectly fit that bill.

The main character is Father Tim, a 60 year old Episcopal priest in the small town of Mitford. Although his grouchy secretary is convinced he is lonely and needs to get out more, he maintains he is content with his bachelor life and time-consuming parish duties. The first indication that his placid life is about to change occurs one day when a giant black dog the size of a Buick tackles him and proceeds to cover him in slobber. The only idea that pops into Father Tim’s head is to shout out a Bible verse, and the dog inexplicably stops its vigorous licking and lies down with a contented sigh.

A dog that only responds to Bible verses is hardly the end of the adventure, however, as his life is quickly invaded by a dirt-covered, love-starved, ill-mannered boy named Dooley who arrives on his doorstep one day and bluntly states that he is looking for a place to “take a dump.” We are also introduced to the elderly and strong-willed heiress Miss Sadie, a hilarious and ornery set of old men who meet at the Grill for breakfast every morning, take-charge fireball “Puny” who is forced on the rector when the parish decides he needs a housekeeper, and a host of other local characters. Along with all this, life-long bachelor Father Tim is horrified to admit that he can’t stop thinking about his lovely, quirky new next door neighbor, Cynthia (in spite of the fact that his dog is determined to kill her cat).

The Mitford books are easy to read, cheerful, and uplifting. They are unquestionably character-driven; it is the relatable, funny, and everyday oddball characters that keep you reading. Unfortunately, my biggest complaint is that the plot is infused with several over-the-top events, including a jewel theft, a dog-napping, and a drug bust. It seemed to me like Karon was finding her voice in this first book and was a little afraid to keep the plot ordinary and let it be driven by the characters. Thankfully, Karon seems more confident in her characters in the later books of the series and these outrageous events are much fewer.

All in all, the Mitford books are very enjoyable, and I thought the way that Karon infused spiritual truths through the thoughts and actions of Father Tim was believable and encouraging. There are simple yet profound challenges sprinkled throughout, musing over real-life struggles such as how hard it is to “simply” obey the Word. I didn’t find it preachy, probably because reading about a priest trying to figure out how to apply truth to everyday life is completely believable to me.

Mitford is a sunny, sweeter-than-life town with just enough reality and struggle to make you think, but not enough reality to make you feel bludgeoned with the evil in the world. Personally, it was just what I was needing.