Home to Harmony (by Philip Gulley)

I had never heard of Philip Gulley. He is, apparently, a Quaker minister in the USA. I didn't even know that Quaker meetings had pastors. I don't remember exactly how I came across his books, but it was a recommendation from either an online friend or perhaps Amazon, after I had read and thoroughly enjoyed the books by Jan Karon (starting with 'At Home in Mitford').

I was given 'Home to Harmony' for my birthday a couple of weeks ago, and have just finished reading it; apparently it's the first in a series.  And what a charming book this is! Sam, a young Quaker minister, returns to Harmony, his home town in the US. Over the course of the book, we get to know the stories behind several of his neighbours and friends, and see how daily life happens for the different people.

There are undoubtedly some caricatures, but even so it gives a lovely set of cameos of life in small-town America. If the book is to be believed, towns like Harmony are apparently still rather clinging to life in the mid-20th century... even though this was written in 2002 as a contemporary book. I did rather find myself wondering when the story was going to start, after several of what seemed like introductory chapters...  but gradually realised that it was, effectively, a set of linked short stories rather than a novel as such.  That meant that it made ideal bedtime reading as each chapter is complete in itself. Except that I liked it so much, I kept reading.

I did find the style rather confusing at first. The whole thing is narrated by Sam in the first person, but frequently switches viewpoints to describe events where Sam was not present. It even relates other people's thoughts, which makes no sense. However, after my initial puzzlement, I became used to the style and stopped worrying about it.

Once it gets going, this is a warm-hearted book about some very likeable people. There were a couple of places where I chuckled out loud, and many more where I smiled at the aptness of the writing.  The Christian content is quite low-key, although there is a gentle undercurrent of care and commitment.

Well worth reading, for anyone who likes gentle character-based books of this kind.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 3rd May 2012

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