Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Recommended Read - A Green Journey by Jon Hassler

Recommended Read – A Green Journey
by Jon Hassler
Random House, 1985
Ballantine Books Random House, 292 pages

I don’t understand how I’d missed hearing about Jon Hassler. He’s a true Minnesotan whose work is widely recognized by the literary crowd. One of his major themes is people’s response to change when they’re forced to deal with their changing world.

At a neighbor's suggestion, I dutifully began Hassler’s first work, Staggerford. The low-key, gentle story quickly drew me in because I cared about the people—and I’ve continue to go back for more of Hassler when the mood hits me.

Although set in a small Minnesota town dominated by the Catholic Church when both small towns and the Church experienced huge challenges, the book is strangely reassuring. We and our world are fallen, but God is bigger. Most disarming for me was that in spite of serious themes, subtle humor permeats almost everything. Humor grounded in complex human conflict and quandry.

Yes, Hassler is a Christian. And he writes about a narrow segment of society. This might be why, even though I discovered literary buffs admire him, he’s not widely read.

But narrow segments of society often reflect our larger society. That's the beauty of literature.

Perhaps A Green Journey is one of Hassler’s best, and I’m wondering how to share the pure joy the characters of this book offer. Agatha McGee, a spinster who recently retired from her position as sixth-grade teacher of St. Isidore’s Elementary School, is restless. Her history, her personality, and her unique acquaintance with seemingly everyone in the parish are in themselves rich fodder. Her nemesis is the new bishop, a gifted, confident man determined to bring in fresh air inspired by the new pope. Then there’s then Irish priest who becomes Agatha’s pen pal without telling her his vocation.

Agatha decides to visit Ireland as part of a touring group so she can meet her friend. The bishop, also in the group and acquainted with Agatha’s reputation, detects a romantic interest and feels obliged to protect the poor woman against the advances of a priest with less than pure intentions. The priest—well, discover him for yourself. When the three intersect—although never all three at once—well, I couldn’t resist reading choice scenes out loud to Ken—and we howled with pure delight.

Add an unmarried former student and her father—also a former student—who knock on Agatha's door during Christmas Eve blizzard. The girl is about to deliver a baby and the rural family might become snowbound, but the baby surprises everyone by waiting until the New Year. Then add townsmen--also former students, of course—who discreetly deny the mother and baby a rightful prize. They're confronted by Agatha’s righteous indignation--she's a wonder, that woman.

There are no wicked characters in this book. And there are no totally well-adjusted characters, either. Just real people who rub against each other—sometimes to the other's chagrin and sometimes to the other's delight.

Hassler knows his material—I can vouch for him because I know these people, too. I grew up in a small Minnesota community equally divided between Catholic and Protestants. Pure Minnesota and a microcosm of the world at large.

Who knew it could be so much fun!

I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and TEstimonials in Advertising."


Monica Sharman said...

Didn't he also write Simon's Night? I really liked that one!

Solveig said...

So nice to hear from you, Monica. I hadn't noticed "Simon's Night" in our local library. However,a quick check revealed Hassler did, indeed, write "Night" and it sounds like another gem.