Author: Jan Karon
Spring is approaching, the birds are twittering in the trees, Cynthia is stressing about the annual tea, and Father Tim is preparing to face his ultimate fear – retirement. On the surface, Mitford is both bustling and serene as the usual, slow-paced days ease into one another. Love and understanding soothes the fights and feuds of living, and yet, there is something long ranging and dark on the horizon. Several somethings actually, and not all of them relate to Father Tim’s bittersweet retirement.
Long-time mayor Ester Cunningham, formerly beloved, is being steadily usurped by a new game in town, the shady Max Stroupe who, suddenly moneyed, is stealing away the affection of a previously stolid Mitford with fancy barbecues and loaded talk of change. Longtime residents Joe Ivy and his sister Winnie are planning to sell-up and move; and it’s time to part with Fernbank. Father Tim’s retirement announcement certainly couldn’t have come at a worse time – but is there ever a good time to move on?
As the political atmosphere in Mitford starts roiling, personal lives are changing. Pauline Barlow is still seeking her children but a new relationship with Buck Leper may set her good intentions, and his, far back. Lace turner is here to stay and even Dooley accepts that, but she plans on bringing company. Harley, who formerly cared for Lace, now needs caring for himself and what better place than to live in the rectory basement? Of course . . . when the rectory is sold or passed on to the next priest, there is the sudden upset of Father Tim’s household to consider. Old time nemeses lurk around corners and as spring gives way to summer, Father Tim does the only thing he can – relies on the prayer that never fails – “thy will be done.”
In Out to Canaan the charm and soul of Karon’s vibrant world remains very much alive. After some of the more somber themes in previous books – Miss Sadie’s death and Lace’s abuse, for example – this offering seems lighter hearted. That’s not to say that repercussions don’t exist and that strains aren’t developing – between the town and its formerly prized mayor for one. But here, Father Tim is learning how to deal with the continual pressures of life and when to take time for himself so that he can help others. It’s here that he also continues to develop his relationship with Cynthia who through her loving, kind nature shows him the beauty and practicality of retiring.
The Mitford family, and specifically Father Tim’s house, is growing with the addition of new characters or the more focused inclusion of old characters. Each person is lovable but believably fallible, hurting in the special way of all humans but also noble and caring in the same way. This is what makes Mitford so special and Karon’s books so endearing. The people who populate them are vigorously real. We want to know about their daily lives. We want to hear their conversations. We want to know about their struggles both big and little. And as all of these things are revealed, we care for them as though they were actual flesh and blood, experiencing the ups and downs, dramatic or minor, as though they were happing to our own friends and family. Through this transformation, then, Karon takes a sleepy book and imbues it with soul. When Father Tim or one of the individuals who people his world learn something, we learn it too. And not in the preachy way of an old time morals tale, but in the way of stories shared beside fireplaces, conversations over coffee, the laugh of two old friends walking and chatting.
The conclusion is open ended, as is life, and the next Mitford ramble is set-up to follow Father Tim and friends into his retirement. Some good has happened, some bad, and along the way, a peculiar revelation showcasing that an old enemy has only just started. I can’t wait to dive into the next book!