Christmas in Mitford and Second Chances

Author: Jan Karon

In the 12th Mitford novel, the at times beautiful, at times stressful, at times wonderous life of a small town and a tight knit community continues as Christmas approaches. Father Tim is faced with a lot of choices and a potential new calling, Dooley and Lace continue to work towards defining their relationship, old friends and neighbors pass on and new friends and neighbors come into town, some people learn about letting go and others about starting new things, and the beauty shop begins a town wide obsession with a spray tan that Father Tim is desperately avoiding.

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good has a lot of side stories coming into play, some minor and others with lasting effects. It’s a thick book, but one with a slow pace that, nevertheless, hops over great and small moments alike, making this addition to the series more overview than narrative. We’re more removed here, mostly observing and getting quick interjections through long chapters. It’s an odd approach, and not an entirely effective one.

The previous novel, In the Company of Others, where Father Tim and Cynthia explored Ireland was not a personal favorite of mine. The new characters and their side stories dwarfed the old, beloved characters. Mitford was far away, Cynthia out-of-sorts, and the side stories complicated and both too intricate and too underexplained. I was happy then to return to a holiday in Mitford, to slow the pace and connect with old friends. And Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good does, somewhat, yet the magic is a little faded, the bustle through Mitford a bit fast. Characters pop in and out with little explanation or backstory, starring more as cameos in their own roles. Even Dooley and Lace are sidelined, appearing and disappearing mostly in phone conversations and through letters.

Forgiveness and second chances, as usual, are found here, but more off screen. The big conflict involves Sammy, Dooley’s brother, who slowly learns about love, acceptance, and trust. Yet, it feels incomplete, an aside that happens more towards the end, told but not shown. It’s a little disappointing, and at this point the Barlowe clan has gotten so large, and hard to keep up with, that we needed more time with them and less of an abbreviated addendum to how everyone is doing.

Image by Johnny Berg from Pixabay

Even Cynthia is a bit remote here. She’s off on another book. She buys Father Tim a suit. She gets another cat. She helps with some matchmaking, but she is not central.

The book instead focuses on Father Tim, a mostly recalcitrant character, finding new inspiration away from the pulpit. A second calling as it were. It’s a bit out of character (ok, a lot out of character), but could also represent growth. Here, we spend more time in my favorite, the Town’s Bookshop, and watch Father Tim as he starts to gear up new projects and helps in old ones. I’m not 100% buying it, although this new direction could work out well. We shall see.

Overall, Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good had the usual charm of Karon’s Mitford novels in that it was quaint, loving, simple, and forgiving. It has a feel-good vibe, one that captures that love encompasses all and enables forgiveness, building communities founded on hope. The storylines, however, could have been more fully fleshed out, and the characters more brought into their own, instead of popping in and out, shadows of their former selves, mere window dressing in a story that should have featured them all. It was still an enjoyable read, but one that lacked the thoughtfulness and completeness of previous books in the series. This was an epilogue or an outline, and what we wanted was the full immersion experience, not the Christmas letter rundown of what happened to whom. I’m ready for the next book in the series, and hopeful that it will come back to its full, vital self.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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