Book Review: Home to Holly Springs

By TERRY MATHEWS | News-Telegram Arts Editor

Oct 30, 2007 - Author Jan Karon released “A Light From Heaven,” the ninth and last of her beloved “At Home in Mitford” series in November of 2005, leaving her fans yearning for more.

Home to Holly Springs
By Jan Karon
Viking. $26.95. 356 pp.
5/5 Stars

The sweet, gentle series introduced readers to  Father Tim Kavanagh, a single, 60-year old Episcopalian priest with a small parish in the hamlet of Mitford, North Carolina.

By the time the series ended, Father Tim’s quiet, orderly life had exploded and included a huge dog, an adopted son and a lovely wife, Cynthia.  

With her new book, “Home to Holly Springs,” Karon opens the vault on Father Tim's early life. The book is due for release today, and has caused a lot of buzz among Mitford fans for two reasons: Father Tim came to us fully grown, without much back story; and there are more Father Tim books to come.

Enjoying retirement and life with his beloved wife, Father Tim’s daily routine is turned upside down when he receives a letter postmarked from his home town. The letter is not signed and contains only two words: Come home. 

Father Tim hasn’t been home since his mother’s funeral 38 years ago. With Cynthia laid up with a broken ankle, Father Tim and his loyal canine companion Barnabus set out from Mitford to the small Mississippi town of his childhood. 

Karon moves the story along at a graceful pace and draws the reader into every plot line. 

Karon is an excellent storyteller and a keen observer of human nature. As each scene plays out, we get the feeling that Father Tim is wrapping up a lot of unfinished, and sometimes painful, personal business. 

Jan Karon

We learn why there was so much friction between Tim and his father, Matthew. We meet Tim’s first love. We learn why his mother, Madelaine, was almost always sad. We learn how Tim found his way to the priesthood. We get to step back in time to a place where ladies took pride in their flower gardens, their ancestry and their grandmother’s silver. 

Without moralizing, Karon also gives us a glimpse into the dark world of racism that existed when Father Tim was known simply as “Timmy.” The separate worlds of black and white collide in the most shocking way before Father Tim was born, with disastrous results for his father.

And finally, Father Tim learns why Peggy, his  family’s beloved housekeeper and his childhood confidant, left town in the middle of the night without saying goodbye.

When the "big reveal" comes, and Father Tim learns the purpose behind the mysterious letter, the emotions of all the parties leap off the page and into your heart. I could see the sitting room in Peggy's house, and I could taste the homemade lemonade she served as she poured her heart out. Some reviewers have chastised Karon for a "Hollywood" ending. To me, it played out perfectly. 

Karon is a master of sweet, gentle fiction and she is on top of her game here. This book moved me to tears several times, and I plan to re-read it soon. It's that good. 

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