For The Someday Book

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Dwelling Places, by Vinita Hampton Wright, 2006, Harper Collins, 339 pp.

What a beautiful novel this is! As I combed the library shelves looking for something captivating but not tragic, interesting but entertaining, I pulled Dwelling Places because of the title. The story summary on the inside flap looked good, and the recommendation from Wally Lamb on the cover sold me. Quite by accident (or Spirit’s leading?), I discovered what is sure to be one of my favorite novels of the year.

Dwelling Places is the story of one Iowa family’s journey through heartache, loss and change. Mack’s family has farmed the same land for generations, but they lose the farm. In the same period of time, he loses his father and his brother under separate tragic circumstances. The family is forced to cope with their grief over these deaths, but also the loss of their way of life on the farm. The novel begins when Mack returns home from two weeks at a mental hospital after showing warning signs of suicide. The family struggles to welcome him home, gently handle his brokenness and continue to grapple with their own grief.

The novel follows four of the characters individually as they find their own way of dealing (or not dealing) with change and the accompanying grief—Mack, who dives deeper into his grief on the path to healing; Jodie, his wife, who begins to live two lives; Kenzie, his daughter, who turns to religion; and Rita, his mother, who survives on good works serving others. Mack and Jodie’s son, Young Taylor, also figures prominently, but we do not see through his eyes directly. The novel takes the family and each individual member of it to the brink of disaster as their broken seeking spirals out of control. But in the end, they are redeemed and reunited—slowly, imperfectly, forged together again as a family.

Faith and relationships with the church are at the heart of this story in many ways. Kenzie’s story is a common tale of adolescent collapse into cultish certainty, and her entire narrative is a faith journey. But faith is critical in the stories of the other characters as well. Each one must attempt to make peace with God about what has happened. Some find their way back to faith, some find faith as the way back to life, and some never return at all. They also relate to various churches in the story, and in the end a particular church service becomes a critical turning point. As one in ministry (and the kind of ministry or church that would do that kind of service), it is rare and gratifying to see stories like mine in print.

Wright’s writing is beautiful, the characters are real and endearing, the story is powerful and rings true. I am so grateful to have found this novel, and look forward to reading more from her.


About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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