Saturday, November 22, 2014

My review of Jan Karon's Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good

If you liked Jan Karon’s earlier Father Tim novels (Mitford series), you’ll probably like her newest, Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good. In this story, Father Tim and his wife Cynthia are back in Mitford, which, as usual, suffers the same modern-day troubles (like economic recession, illnesses, accidents, political strife) towns across America suffer. And as usual, Karon presents human foibles and frustrations with humor. The usual Mitford personalities are there, a little older now, some wiser, some not. Like Karon’s earlier Mitford novels, this novel is a series of vignettes, and a fast, enjoyable read.

I had only one difficulty with this story: I found it hard to follow. I never had that difficulty before, so maybe it’s just that I’m older and less able to keep track of multiple characters. Or maybe I missed a Karon book that might contain missing links. I thought I’d read them all, but maybe not. Or perhaps when Karon included a backstory reminder, I lost track of the current thread. I don’t know. I still very much enjoyed the book; I’m just not sure I got all of it.

Some might see another negative in that the story seems too idyllic. I wondered about this myself. Earlier novels in the Mitford series did seem to have more sinister evil-caused tension in them. This novel’s characters face plenty of challenges like personality clashes, health threats, rebellion, addictions, and floundering. Several of these situations create significant suspense. So the story is not without its representation of our fallen world. And I concluded that in fact, this story is not TOO idyllic. Here’s why.

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good shows, as does Charles Sheldon’s 1896 novel In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do?, what Jesus might do if He lived in Mitford, or my town, or yours. Not that Father Tim is perfect. But he obeys how Jesus taught us to live, he musters courage to confront and go out of his way for others, and he gives credit to God. The “Yeah, right, who would do that?” part of me wants to call this story too idyllic, because I know I don’t do what Father Tim does. But the “Oh, this way of living is God’s best desire for us” part of me is humbled to see Father Tim’s example.

We humans long to belong. We long to be understood. We long for people to see our hearts with God’s love and to show us mercy. It’s a kind of heaven on earth, a foretaste of real heaven, and a picture of God’s love for us. In that, the novel does give us an idyllic picture, but it is not TOO idyllic. It is possible. It is true. It is the earthly love God had in mind when He gave us His commandments. In Somewhere Safe, the weekly newspaper, Mitford Muse, has a contest themed “Does Mitford still take care of its own?” I felt inspired seeing all the ways it still does.

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