I actually picked this short novel up last summer and kept looking at it all year but other titles kept getting in my way. I was intrigued with the cover for one thing (I tell my students not to do that – pick a book by its cover) and then the idea of a story about a small closely knit town of church goers piqued my interest.
After spending a good part of yesterday sitting on my porch swing with this book I am a bit aggravated to realize I have no idea who the strange looking people on the cover are supposed to be! What is the deal? Now I want to talk to the cover artist or the publisher because I want to know why there are no recognizable characters depicted. Oh well. It is actually an extraordinary read and quite peculiar. Not really like anything I have read before.
The book is set in a small town named Varennes which is apparently close to the Canadian border. There are three preteen girls who have been best friends since kindergarten. It begins when these three girls come upon a seemingly dead Mr. Banner on the beach. While two girls go for help Mees Kipp stays with him. As she sits with him the reader realizes that Mees has some kind of spiritual powers and she revives him. All the while the other two girls are dealing with trying to get help from other neighbors and the reader learns that Lorne is a slightly pudgy child forever looking for stability and acceptance. Sunny is the pretty one, the good one, the boss of all.
After that introduction the point-of-view jumps among various characters even the neighborhood animals. Also the narrative is not always in the same form. Sometimes it is in the form of a police blotter, a letter to a friend, or a diary entry. But the reader starts to feel the lives connect and to feel the thin place where the miraculous may slip through.
Don't be mislead, this is not a sweet syrupy story of finding religion. The reader is privy also to the hidden lives of the community members and of course there is plenty of deceit, lust, manipulation, and meanness. All along also one character is reading a piece of Varennes history as she rebinds the journal of a late 19th-century schoolmarm who apparently had a secret romance and was responsible for the drowning of many of her pupils in what has become known as the Sunday School Outing Disaster.
My favorite character is Helen Zeebrugge. At 92 she resides at the Crockett Home for the Aged and is always angry at what she sees as the ineptitude and condescension of her caretakers. She is a spunky old gal and all the chapters she is in are so good. Her son, Piet, is obsessed with exercise, looking young and finding his fifth wife. He is irritating but he does look out for Helen.
There is an interesting high school French teacher and a new-to-town book binder. One chapter includes the escapades of the neighborhood dogs running at night replete with all the canine thoughts and insights. Finally there is much excitement in church one Sunday when criminals break in and the newly installed security system fails, so to speak.