Critique: Jan Karon’s “In The Company Of Others”
Jan Karon has perfected the art of making her main character all things: Father Tim is at once human and divine with his humble spirit and Godly wisdom. He seems to be as inept and cowardly as I am yet his shepherding always bring a healing and reconciling to those involved once he is reluctantly drawn in. And the kinds of problems he’s drawn into make me conclude people are people whether in Mitford or in Ireland.
In this novel we get the double whammy of enjoying the Kavanaugh experience-vacationing in Ireland, the ancestral home, while keeping up with Dooley and Lace back home, hearing from Emma via hilarious e-mails, plus exploring the mysteries of broken relationships that go back to the mid 1800’s via a doctor’s ancient diary and secret chamber in the cellar:new fodder for Karon, this book. No wonder she calls it her favorite, her “Dark Haired Child”. The effort she has put into researching and crafting this book are evident everywhere.
What has made Karon my favorite writer is her prose style that pulls me in as if I’m there experiencing it all: the sights, the sounds, the smells, the angst in every situation. An example: by sentence one we’re in a summer downpour, by page two we share Father Tim’s-referred to forthwith as ‘him’ or ‘his’-frustrations with all kinds of travel. We get our first taste of Irish witticisms from the driver, “There’s nothin’ so bad it couldn’t be worse-another bend comin’ up!” And “You believe in fairies?”..”Ah, no, not a bit. But they’re there nonth’less.” “You’ve never seen one, then?” “If it’s fairies ye’re after, they’re said to be very numerous in Mayo.” Love it!
Before I let go the Irish witticisms, a couple that were delightful were Lian’s “Bolting the door with a boiled carrot” and Maureen’s “tis a lonely washin’ that hasn’t a man’s shirt in it”. And I need to remember the Irish jokes told as Cynthia painted William; they were golden.
I love that ‘he’ has a gnawing little sin of jealousy about Cynthia’s writing and painting (page 19) observing she’d brought sketchbooks and had an email from her editor exhorting her to ‘get a book out of Ireland’. (which she promised him she’d ignore) After 60 years of bachelorhood, he’d discovered a terrible truth: ‘without her he was beached’.
Reading Karon is pure joy. I can page through this book, now completed, and find nuggets on every page I want to sample again, like Whitman’s chocolates. Little composite masterpieces of humanity that mirror my understanding of what life is about: family, honor, obedience, encouragement, forgiveness; honestly this would make a good study in human relations on its own merit. And entertained in the bargain, as ‘he’ would say!
For instance: page 239 when he shares with Anna and counsels her by telling his own experience with Dooley. “So please tell me reverend..(through p 239)
I thought I’d found the point of the story until I got to the complexity of Evelyn’s life! Saw that he had more work to do; and JK knit all the intrinsics together so we came to her conversion (Karon leaves no soul unconverted, I believe) I don’t believe anyone but JK could pull this off without losing the reader. But when the confessing and forgiving is done between crusty William and flinty Evelyn it’s a blast: p 380 (entire page) through 381 “sit down, you old gossoon’. LOVED IT.
My one criticism is that the celebrating went on overly long; the rest of the book seems to be mending fences and high fiving between the characters but it’s such a joyful thing we don’t mind. And the icing on the cake? Getting the mystery resolved about what happened to the O’Donnell family and young Eunan. LOVED IT.