More Things in Heaven and Earth by Jeff High first came to my attention through this post about “gentle fiction.” He described the kind of books and stories I love to read, and he writes about Tennessee, where he grew up and where I have been living for six years now. So I wanted to give his books a try.
In this story, Luke Bradford has just finished medical school, and his first practice in in the small town of Watervalley, TN. He would have preferred a position as a research assistant, but that doesn’t pay as well, and he has school loans to pay off. He also would have preferred a large city to a small town, but a program that will allow his school bills to be paid off for a few years of service in an out-of-the-way town was one that could not be passed up. So he enters Watervalley reluctantly.
The book is peopled by a variety of characters. After accidentally causing a fire in his oven, which set off an alarm at the fire department, the mayor suggests that Luke hire a housekeeper. He sends over Connie Thompson, a “large and robust black woman in her mid-fifties” who brooks no nonsense. But she does cook well and keeps house nicely, and it’s fun to see their relationship develop. His neighbor is a 12 year old boy who likes to wear bicycle helmets and whose mother keeps to herself. Finding an apple orchard on a hike and getting nearly shot by its owner starts a tentative friendship with John Harris, former leading citizen of Watervalley who has become an intelligent but bitter near-recluse. And every encounter with the beautiful Christine Chambers goes awry, leaving him with little hope of forming any kind of relationship, though he still likes to try.
The author has degrees in literature and nursing, and his knowledge of both show through in his writing. Luke’s aunt had taken him in when his parents were killed when he was twelve, and her love of literature passed on to him. At one point she had given him a book of poetry with a note that his medical knowledge would help people physically, but words had the power of “hope and joy and courage” and could help hearts. The title of the book, quoted in it at one point, is from Hamlet: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” In a sense that could be the theme of the book. Luke looks down on the people of Watervalley at first, but finds a goodness and kindness in them he admires; he holds himself aloof and feels out of place, but eventually finds a home. Though I wouldn’t call this Christian fiction, Luke doesn’t have much of a place for faith in his life at first, but does come to (or returns to) the conviction that there is a caring Designer behind life.
It took me a while to warm up to the characters. The first couple of chapters involved a series of comic disasters, which are okay occasionally, but are not the type of stories I enjoy. But the book grew on me the further I read (or listened), and by the end I loved it. The only thing that mars it is a smattering of bad language.
(Sharing at Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)