Karon’s small town novel makes the reader feel at home

Virginia Fay is an English sophomore and her book column "Sweet Story Scribbler" will appear in the online edition.

Some might call San Luis Obispo a small town, but compared to Mitford, we live in a metropolis. Jan Karon’s “At Home in Mitford” paints the picture of a tiny town made up of a picturesque town square, idyllic Main Street stores and eateries and several cheerful little churches. The plot of this novel, however, centers around one in particular — Lord’s Chapel — and the lovable rector who presides over it.

Sounding pretty dull? It’s easy to see how the tale of the life of an aging rector and his quirky parishioners might be anything but exciting, but in fact, “At Home in Mitford” offers something better than cheap thrills. While there are several unexpected events, this novel could never be described as an adventure tale. But it is exactly this mellow, small-town feel that creates this book’s charm.

Father Tim, the 60-year-old reverend of Lord’s Chapel, is Mitford’s cornerstone in many ways. The often eccentric but unfailingly endearing townspeople rely on Father Tim for everything from potluck contributions to life advice, and it is his inability to say no that leads to many of the novel’s developments.

Typically, life in Mitford carries on with “a slow, sweet peace … a certain harmony of mood and feeling.” But when an attractive neighbor moves in next door to Father Tim (a perennial bachelor), a dog the size of a couch bounds into his heart, and a parentless 11-year-old boy pops up in need of a home, things start to get complicated and infinitely more interesting for Father Tim.

Couple these circumstances with the convergence of some long-forgotten stories, a mysterious visitor to the church and heartbreaking diseases of some key characters, and life in Mitford begins to speed up.

As the town reporter exclaims in frustration when looking for an angle on the latest news to hit Mitford, “This town is full of human-interest angles. I’m lookin’ for hard news.”

Though human interest is indeed unceasing in Mitford, it is surprising how much “hard news” also takes place in this tranquil little hill town. A dangerous heart transplant, a big-time criminal lurking in the shadows and the discovery of the cause of the mysterious fire that was the town’s worst disaster are just a few of the events adding (often unwanted) excitement to the villagers’ once peaceful lives.

Regardless of what startling events take place in this sleepy village, each of the town’s characters can be counted on to provide comic relief and never-ending idiosyncrasies. Mitford’s populace is such a captivating, unapologetically rural community that it’s impossible not to want to join in on their antics.

By the end of the novel, you’ll find a soft spot in your heart for each character, from Father Tim’s outlandish secretary to his big-hearted doctor and vet friends, and most importantly, his homely neighbor Cynthia Coppersmith and young, unpolished Dooley Barlowe, who comes to stay in the rectory.

Though the characters are impeccably written into a comfortable, small-town groove, their careless (even bordering on hick-like) diction is a sharp contrast to Father Tim, Cynthia, and a few other choice townspeople’s unfailingly carefully worded and educated articulation. It is hard to understand why half the town speaks as if they were educated at Oxford and the other half as if they never graduated from the county school, but in the end, their personalities are so winning that it ceases to matter.

The steadfast small-town charm provided by the novel’s cast and the very spirit of the town itself make for an undeniably cozy read. It’s hard to explain just how much you’ll want to crawl inside the pages of the book and take an open-ended vacation to Mitford’s solace by the time you turn the last page. Luckily, if after finishing “At Home in Mitford” you find that it is indeed a home you don’t want to leave, you’ll be pleased to discover that Karon has crafted seven more similarly cozy novels in the same idyllic setting. Happy reading, and welcome home.