I admit with a certain amount of chagrin that I don’t naturally gravitate to Christian fiction. It holds as much merit as the next genre, and while I do enjoy the idea of not being sucked into a plotline replete with explicit, badly written sex and gratuitous cursing that does nothing for the sake of the dialogue, sometimes I find the genre can get too immersed in the moral of the story to adequately develop the plot or characters. While I was perusing Amazon last week for “something different” but had no idea what that something might be, I ran across “Appalachian Serenade: A Novella”. The cover intrigued me, a quick check of the author bio confirmed that she was a born and raised Southern author, and–lo and behold!–the price was free! I took a second look. I have family roots in Appalachia and confess that the title lured me in. Only now, in my early thirties, am I beginning to admire and cherish the wonderful mixed bag of ethnicities and cultures which weave the quilt of the Appalachian culture.
It turns out the author, Sarah Loudin Thomas, is serving this novella up as a light hors d’oeuvre to her summer release “Miracle in a Dry Season”. You can try out her writing for free, and hopefully if you enjoy the novella, you’ll be enticed to pick up the novel later. This is a common and efficient sales tactic by current authors to help make you a loyal reader–and it works. I was pleased enough with Mrs. Thomas’s work that I will probably purchase “Miracle in a Dry Season”.
It’s the summer of 1945 in Wise, West Virginia. The summer is long, times are hard, and our soldiers are beginning to drift in from WWII. Delilah Morrissey went to Chicago years before with a handsome husband in tow and planned on never seeing Wise again. However, her prince turned out to be a cruel man, and upon his death she acquired a mountain of debt. She returns to Wise to live with her sister, brother-in-law, and their child. Feeling the urge to contribute to the household (her brother-in-law is less than pleased to take her in), Delilah finds work in the general store.
There she strikes up a ready, if somewhat stilted, friendship with the storekeeper Robert, a kind man with a big heart. The attraction is mutual. However, Delilah is certain that Robert doesn’t want children, and children are something she has hungered for her whole life. Robert has a secret from his past that haunts him every time he looks at Delilah which leads to the awkward nature of their friendship. With a host a small town characters to pump fresh life and verve into a sleepy small town setting, “Appalachian Serenade” is a fast, easy read with a smooth, flowing plot.
Mrs. Thomas excels at character development. It is obvious through her smooth, polished depictions of ancillary characters that she is a daughter of the South. I have seen many books on Amazon that declare themselves to be gentle fiction similar to the Mitford series, and I scoff at those claims. While this novel lacks much of the whimsy found in Mitford, the quirks, dreams, and faults of each character are made plain so that no character is made to seem unimportant or worse yet, filler material. If Mrs. Thomas wished to compare her work to Mitford, I would not be offended at all.
I enjoyed Delilah’s character the most. She was well-developed and seemed almost a real person to me by the end of the story. She has a knack for knowing what customers in Robert’s store need but have forgotten, and she fetches it for them before they go, delighting Robert and the customers alike. Mrs. Thomas was also adept at delivering family conflict as evident through the small scenes where Delilah is in her brother-in-law’s home. She crafted a terse, abrupt man with only a few well-crafted sentences.
I did feel there was a bit much repetition through the novella. In almost every scene, Delilah is ruminating on whether she can care for someone who doesn’t want child. When she isn’t languishing for want of a baby, Robert is obsessing over whether she can love a man who can’t provide a child. While I realize this was the framework for the novella, I began to grow weary of both their plights by halfway through the work.
Out of a total five stars, I will assign “Appalachian Serenade: A Novella” four stars. I recommend the book to lovers of gentle fiction, admirers of small town life, and anyone who enjoys an engaging, well-written novella to pass a rainy afternoon with. At the current price of free, there is no reason not to go claim your own copy and enjoy the breezy, refreshing town of Wise, West Virginia.