Saturday, August 2, 2014
SMALL BLESSINGS and Simple Gifts (2014)
Although I love thrillers and mysteries, I seem to be following a course set for me by my father, who in his later years preferred to re-read favorite authors and seek out gentler stories. He did not care for the highly descriptive sex and violence that was coming into vogue, instead preferring a good, well-written story, where much is left to the imagination of the reader and the good guys win in the end.
In her debut novel (August 12, 2014), Martha Woodroof has given readers many small blessings and I, for one, am thankful. Her writing is easy and graceful. Her characters are charming and quirky. Perhaps you've dreamed of living in the small town she describes? It even has an independent bookstore! And there's just enough mystery to make you wonder what is going to happen next.
The story is a simple gift. Tom is an aging, kind, and unexciting professor of Shakespeare at a small Virginia college where the faculty live in close proximity and think they know everything about one another.
Tom's burden is his wife Marjorie, who has suffered with mental illness for many years forcing Tom and his mother-in-law Agnes into roles as caregivers.
Small unexpected changes ripple through the community when the charming and mysterious Rose is hired at the local bookstore. (I have a suspicion that author Martha Woodroof is actually Rose.)
The book jacket reminds me of Shaker art and brings to mind the words of the song Simple Gifts. And so everyone “comes down where they ought to be.”
I hate to reveal more of the story. I hope you will be as delighted and surprised by this book as I was. It is so much more than it seems on first glance.
Every time the reader thinks the story is settling into a familiar track, it isn't. Not only does the story surprise, the “characters never stop surprising themselves, and each other.”
Small Blessings put me in mind of the world author JanKaron has created in her Mitford tales, although with an absurdist twist, where foibles and human failings are recognized and tolerated with love. I hope that Martha Woodroof's characters will appear again. I missed them as soon as I read the last page.
Bottom Line: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Title: Small Blessings
Author: Martha Woodroof
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
No. of Pages: 320 pages
Copyright: August 12, 2014
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Disclaimer: A copy of Small Blessings was provided to me by St. Martin's Press/Netgalley for review purposes.
MARTHA WOODROOF was born in the South, went to boarding school and college in New England, ran away to Texas for a while, then fetched up in Virginia. She has written for NPR, npr.org, Marketplace and Weekend America, and for the Virginia Foundation for Humanities Radio Feature Bureau. Her print essays have appeared in such newspapers as the New York Times, The Washington Post, and the San Francisco Chronicle. Small Blessings is her debut novel. She lives with her husband in the Shenandoah Valley. Their closest neighbors are cows. (Source: Amazon)