Miss Dreamsville

dreamsvilleI didn’t realize when I picked the books that I would be reading this week that I would be immersing myself in the sixties.  I started with Ordinary Grace and was sent to a tragic summer in a small town in 1961.  Then I picked up Miss Dreamsville and found myself in Naples, Florida in 1962.  Not only are both books set in the 1960s, they are both told by the main character looking back in time.  In this case it is Dora Witherspoon, now 80, who is looking back at this turbulent time.

When Jackie (soon to become radio personality Miss Dreamsville) comes to Naples, Florida from Boston, she brings her Yankee ways and ideas with her and decides to start a literary society.  The members are a bunch of misfits – the divorced Dora, a woman who secretly writes sex articles for magazines, a woman convicted of murdering her husband, a black housekeeper, a librarian, and a gay man.  They share books, and experiences, as they grow towards acceptance of themselves.

“Maybe freedom means defining yourself any way you want to be.”

With the backdrop of the south in the 60s, the KKK, civil rights, and the Cuban Missile Crisis, combined with the idea of a group of outcasts finding themselves and friendship through the sharing of books, this book could have been great.  Unfortunately, it was only OK – a quick, light, and enjoyable read without a lot of depth.  The main characters were lightly sketched and other characters in the novel were almost non-existent in their characterization.  It was hard to tell whether or not I should like them – or whether I should even care.

I’m not saying that I hated it, I didn’t – it was entertaining – I was just disappointed.  The concept was there with an eclectic group of characters, a great setting, and plenty of opportunity for exploration of backgrounds, storylines, underlying issues, etc.  Unfortunately most of it seemed to be quickly glossed over and in the end it left me wanting.

Title: Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women’s Literary Society
Author: Amy Hill Hearth
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 272
Publication: Atria Books, October 2012

Ordinary Grace

ordinary graceIn New Bremen, Minnesota, in the year 1961, thirteen year old Frank is about to experience a summer full of tragedy and will become immersed in a story full of anger, betrayal, lies, adultery, and prejudice.

Frank is growing up in this small town the son of a Methodist minister and a frustrated artistic mother.  His older sister is headed for Julliard and his younger brother tags behind him, self-conscious of his stuttering problems.  Many of the men in the town have been greatly affected, spiritually, physically, and emotionally by their participation in recent wars.  It is against this backdrop that a 40-year old Frank looks back at his youth to tell the story of this tragic summer, a summer when faith, families, friendships, and communities will be tested.

I really loved the storytelling style – very simple and straightforward yet engaging.  Although the story is told by the 40-year old Frank, it feels as though it is being told a thirteen year old boy growing up in a small town, the thoughts and behaviors are so perfectly remembered and shared.  Small touches made me smile and captured the setting perfectly – the music, the peanut-butter and jelly and red Kool-Aid, hot rods, swimming holes.

Not so much a mystery (I was not surprised by the ending), this is a coming-of-age story, a story about a simple life that becomes extremely complicated quickly, a story about a boy that grows up too fast, and a story about the ordinary graces that ultimately redeem us.

“In your dark night, I urge you to hold to your faith, to embrace hope, and to bear your love before you like a burning candle, for I promise that it will light your way. And whether you believe in miracles or not, I can guarantee that you will experience one. It may not be the miracle you’ve prayed for. God probably won’t undo what’s been done. The miracle is this: that you will rise in the morning and be able to see again the startling beauty of the day”.

Title: Ordinary Grace
Author: William Kent Krueger
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 320
Publication: Atria Books, March 2013