My Father’s House by Rose Chandler Johnson begins with the idyllic childhood of Lily Rose Cates in Georgia. Then her father died when she was sixteen, turning her world upside down. Her mother had been not entirely mentally present for some time, a situation made worse by the death of Lily’s father. A lady who took care of their home, Annie Ruth, became a second mother and the main stabilizing influence in Lily’s life.
Milestones pass – high school graduation, friendships, college. Lily has a couple of part-time jobs she likes, but life is pretty tame. She is invited to visit a cousin’s place in New York City and is absolutely mesmerized by all there is to see and do. One highlight is an encounter with a handsome and charming waiter who asks for her number.
To her joy and surprise, the waiter, Manny, does call – only he’s not a waiter. The restaurant was his family’s, and he was just helping out for a while. He’s actually a driven, high-powered lawyer in Detroit. A telephone romance leads to a proposal and a move for Lily Rose. Some incidents and reactions from Manny make Lily uncomfortable, but she’s in love and her courtship is such a whirlwind, she lets them go.
Their first few days are bliss until Manny has to go back to work, leaving Lily lonely trying to get accustomed not only to a new city, but a new situation, style of home and life, everything. Before long, Manny’s dark side comes out bit by bit. Lily realizes that she can no longer brush off or overlook his actions. Manny has become unpredictable and dangerous, and Lily decides to leave with the help of a friend.
Lily goes back to Georgia to a home of her father’s that she had inherited but had not told Manny about. She knows Manny will come looking for her, but for a while she has time to heal, stabilize, and rediscover her roots and her faith.
This was a wonderfully told story with a strong sense of place. The description of the Southern setting makes one want to settle in a rocking chair on the porch with a glass of sweet iced tea. I was drawn right in and looked forward to each new chapter, sorrowing with Lily over the loss of her father and her marriage, rejoicing as she grew.
There were a few too many references to Lily and Manny’s intimacy for my tastes, but none of that was explicit, and what was said did make sense in context. Then in the second half of the book, there are a number of instances of an unmarried man and woman staying overnight in a cabin and home. None of the other characters seems to have a problem with that: I would have loved for at least one of them to object. The author prevents anything from happening between them. And there’s an odd incident where Lilly almost seems to be saying she visited her father in heaven in a dream.
But other than those caveats, I thought this was a lovely story.