This book led me in a totally different and unexpected direction from the other Mitford books. It took us down many personal roads with Father Tim and gave greater insights into his past, revealing a more human side than the picture I held of him as the respected rector of Lord's Chapel, perfect in every way. I found it was a different kind of read. I was picking up the book with more anticipation in some parts, re-reading some places to make sure that I had read it right. At first, I wasn't sure that I might have been a little disappointed by the story line but, upon reflection, it enlightened the reader about so many small mentions in the first Mitford series. The shocker in the revelation of Henry threw me for a loop and, even at the end of Somewhere Safe, Father Tim was left with uneasy feelings about the situation in which his father had placed him and whether or not he felt comfortable letting out his secret. So much like the situations of today, even though it happened many years ago for him. I have come to the conclusion that I will enjoy re-reading this book many times. I was upset to see some language that, although it was probably used because that was the way the people talked, to me was unnecessary. However, over all, Jan Karon has done it again!
This book is an unexpected treat. It follows Father Tim at age 70 as he visits his childhood hometown of Holly Springs, at the behest of a letter with two words in it: Come Home.
Karon is ever deeper as a writer and I felt tears of joy toward the end of the book, due to Tim being so kind and so sensitive, and following God as best he can. Mysteries about Tims mom, father, childhood friends who he still misses, his caregiver Peggy who ran away, so many people he had not seen in 39 years, since his leaving town. Tim is stunned by his discovery of a very close kin he had no idea he had. Karon writes a rich and engaging book, even better than her Mitford books, which also rate a five from me.
Seventy-year-old Timothy Kavanaugh, the now retired Episcopalian minister of Jan Karon's beloved Mitford series, who lives in Mitford, NC, with his wife, the former Cynthia Coppersmith, and their adopted son Dooley, receives a mysterious, unsigned letter postmarked Holly Springs, MS, which simply tells him to "Come home." Cynthia has broken her ankle and Dooley is in college, so Tim hops in the car with his huge dog Barnabas and drives alone to Holly Springs, where he was born and raised but hasn't been back in forty years. There he looks for long-lost friends, confronts the ghosts of the past, and wrestles with the demons of his upbringing. But will he ever find who wrote the note and what it is all about? And if he does, what will he do about it?
I read and enjoyed At Home in Mitford, the first of Karon's Mitford series, but have not read any of the others which follow. However, when my wife bought this book, the first in Karon's new Father Tim series, I decided to read it. While set in time subsequent to the last Mitford novel, it covers the early days of Tim and his family in Holly Springs via numerous flashbacks and reminiscences. USA Today says, "This is Karon's most emotionally complex novel." One could take "emotionally complex" as a synonym for "morally ambiguous." At Home in Mitford, and I am told the other Mitford novels, have a certain light-hearted charm. Most reader-reviewers of Home to Holly Springs liked it, but a significant number of people who loved Mitford did not like this book because of its psychological nature, uneven narrative, lack of charm, tedious detail, and especially the stories of teenage sex, unwed pregnancy, attempted rape, and adultery. My wife was among those who did not care for it as well as the Mitford books.
Jan Karon is a good writer, and I found that the book has an interesting plot line, although it does drag a little at times. There are many positive aspects to it. However, one's final decision about the book might hinge on how one views Tim's reaction to learning about his father's adultery. Does he feel that it's something in the past that can't be changed and he simply goes on from there without necessarily condoning what happened? Or does he come to believe that maybe the fact that his father found someone with whom he could show the love that he never gave Tim's mother is just one of those facets of life and he shouldn't be judgmental? I would like to think that it's the former, but my wife concluded that it might have been the latter. Aside from this, there are a few instances of drinking whiskey. As to language, in addition to some common euphemisms and childish slang terms for body parts and functions, several references to the "s" word that was written on the water tower are found, although the word itself is never used, the words God and Lord are uttered a couple of times as interjections, and the "d" word modifies "Yankees" once and is part of the name of a mule owned by Tim's childhood friend mentioned a number of times. The worst for me is that someone is said to be "white a**," or to "kick a**," or to be "bad a**," or to be "hard a**," or to be a "pain in the a**," or to be a "rat's a**," or to say "my a**." Karon may have chosen such language because she thinks that it makes her characters sound "authentic." I think that it just makes them sound annoying. I like the fact that Tim is always acknowledging God and His grace, and the story does have a happy ending, but I think that it could have been told in a much better way.
If you enjoyed the Mitford Series, you will also love Home to Holly Springs with Father Tim and his friends. He is a such a good priest, and the books are so encouraging yet deal with life's good side and bad side.