The thing is, Jan Karon doesn’t follow the rules.
If you go to conferences or classes (which I highly recommend) you’ll get lots of advice about starting the story in the midst of the action, piling on the conflict, being mindful of whose point-of-view you’re writing in, and lots of other really good tips.
Here’s what Jan Karon does:
1) She writes in omniscient POV. That means the reader sees the story through just about every character’s eyes. Much of it is in Father Tim’s POV, but we jump in and out of lots of folks heads. And I, at least, hardly noticed.
2) She started us off with Father Tim fretting over a tux that doesn’t fit anymore. Hardly a life-altering crisis. And yet, I was smiling along with Tim’s frustration over the pounds he gained on a trip to Ireland.
3) There’s conflict, but it’s not what you’d call big-time stuff. Dooley gave Lace a ring, but it’s just a “friendship” ring . . . or is it? Father Tim is offered his old pulpit under difficult circumstances. Cynthia’s eyesight is failing. Hope’s pregnancy is complicated. Sammy offers some solid difficulties with several thefts and some serious bad behavior, but otherwise . . . its everyday stuff. And I was glad.
This book doesn’t offer all the ingredients that a “good” novel is supposed to. And yet I LOVED it as have hundreds of other readers who have rated it on various book sites. There are certainly a handful that didn’t like it and several of them cite what I mentioned above by way of calling the book “boring,” the story “thin,” and saying it has “no dramatic tension.”
So what’s up with this book debuting at #2 on the New York Time’s bestseller list? Well, obviously, I don’t know or I would be debuting at #2. But here’s what I think.
As much as readers love a story that fits the template, there’s a hunger for . . . life. You know, the stuff that we all go through every day. Here are a few reviewer comments:
- It’s not a book of epic struggles, rather it’s the small everyday trials and successes that make Karon’s books so delightful.
- The Mitford books help me remember to say thanks for the joy and blessings in my own life where I’m “Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good.”
- It is a novel about the beautiful ebb and flow of everyday life in a small town.
- I feel like I know all the characters personally and laugh, love, and cry with them as they go through their daily lives.
- The characters and their lives were so relate-able and this made them feel so real that I could close my eyes and actually let my imagination picture life in Milford.
I think Jan Karon has mastered the art of capturing the beauty of the mundane. Of a Christmas tree being lit in the upstairs window of a bookstore. Of a single woman in a caftan meeting the man of her dreams over on-line scrabble. Of a man who is only just learning to read being captivated by The Cat in the Hat. Of mistakes redeemed. Of lives lived. Of people just loving one another.
The unifying theme for Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good is a question posed by the Mitford Muse: Does Mitford still take care of its own? And the answer is what I love about each opportunity to return to Mitford.
Yes, oh yes. And so, dear reader, should we all.