Thursday, 11 September 2014
Book Review: Miracle in a Dry Season by Sarah Loudin Thomas
It's 1954 and Perla Long's arrival in the small town of Wise, West Virginia, was supposed to go unnoticed. She just wants a quiet, safe place for her and her daughter, Sadie, where the mistakes of her past can stay hidden. But then drought comes to Wise, and Perla is pulled into the turmoil of a town desperately in need of a miracle.
Casewell Phillips has resigned himself to life as a bachelor...until he meets Perla. She's everything he's sought in a woman, but he can't get past the sense that she's hiding something. As the drought worsens, Perla's unique way with food brings both gratitude and condemnation, placing the pair in the middle of a maelstrom of anger and forgiveness, fear and faith.
Newcomer, Perla Long has two things which make her suspicious to the townsfolk; a child born out of wedlock and a special 'knack' with food. Whatever she cooks always stretches enough to feed everybody, no matter how little she starts with. Some regard it as a miraculous gift, like Jesus with the loaves and fish, but most are inclined to call it witchcraft and chicanery. Young bachelor, Casewell Phillips feels drawn to Perla, but has his own misgivings to work through and doesn't want to jeopardise his position as a pillar of the community. Finally, nobody can deny how useful Perla's 'gift' proves to be in a time of severe drought.
The romance was restrained but very heartfelt and sweet nonetheless. The main characters are easy to take to straight away. Perla is a girl who was swept into a mistake and Casewell is just a lovely guy trying to do the right thing. Little Sadie, one of the main causes of Perla's loneliness, is a delightful character, quick to love everyone and immediately look for the best. I also liked the elderly Talbot twins, who looked alike but were different in their outlooks.
The book reminded me a little of another story, 'Chocolat'. Both introduce a single mother and child who are sources of scandal, both women have a gift with food, and both towns have bigoted, intolerant pastors. But whereas the priest in 'Chocolat' might have made all Christians appear bad by association, Pastor Longbourne in this story certainly doesn't. There are many people (including the hero) who show him up in their genuine desire to seek God's heart. That makes me prefer 'Miracle in a Dry Season.'
The other main theme is bereavement. I love Casewell's relationship with his father, John, who was one of my favourite characters. I often shy away from books which deal with people facing such raw loss, but this one was great. I would recommend it to anybody who may find themselves in the same position as Casewell and his mother, Emily. Their healthy way of dealing with their grief is an excellent example.
The most thought-provoking part of this book for me is Perla's attitude toward her gift. Because of people's treatment, she regards it as an embarrassment and liability rather than a gift, or 'love in the form of nourishment.' We see how people may take a blessing or gift, and twist it until they believe it's evil. As Casewell tells Perla, 'Sometimes the gifts God gives us feel like burdens, but we have to trust that He knows what He's doing.' That's something readers with far less spectacular gifts than Perla's can take away to encourage us, when the drawbacks seem greater than the benefits.
I'm sure many of us would like Perla's particular gift. I love the description of how she transforms raw ingredients into something delicious and life-sustaining, and I'm sure we'll all agree that Casewell ends the story as a lucky man.
Thanks to Net Galley and Bethany House for giving me a copy to review.
Paula Vince is an award-winning Australian author of contemporary fiction. She loves to set her inspirational novels in her own familiar environment, the beautiful Adelaide Hills. Paula believes that a well told story has the power to touch hearts like nothing else. Her most recent novel, 'Imogen's Chance' was published in April 2014.