Sunday, September 15, 2002

Highland Mercies: Blue Ridge Legacy Continues

Gary Parker's "Blue Ridge Legacy" continues the story of Abby Porter, who in the first book, Highland Hopes, grew up in the Blue Ridge mountains of western North Carolina in the early 20th century. Now Abby continues her story immediately where it left off, in the fall of 1929. After seeing some closure in the first book -- Abby reconciled to her father just before his death, and Daniel getting the money to buy back the family land -- the Porter clan is thrown into chaos. The Great Depression has arrived even in Blue Springs, and quickly all the Porter members lose their life savings when the banks fail.

As with the first book, Highland Mercies captures the heart and spirit of the proud Highlanders. In this book, which tells of the years 1929 to 1945, modern life has caught up even to the folk of Blue Ridge, with all the conveniences of cars, electricity and telephones. A time and place reminiscent of "The Waltons," the rural Highlanders face Prohibition, hard economic times, and then the shock of Pearl Harbor and World War II.

Yet even more so than the background setting, the characters themselves enrich Highland Mercies. Once again, Parker's characters exhibit great depth and show clear contrasts in how they respond to life's problems. Abby Porter Waterbury matures, no longer the ambitious young person determined to forever leave Blue Springs and make something of her life. Now, as she faces marital problems and raising two boys to adulthood, Abby realizes that a time must come to give up her own dreams so that others can enjoy theirs. Her faith is more mature and real now, not a mere emotional experience at conversion (yet which showed little evidence in her life). The hard times in her own life mirror that of the country mired in the Depression, and now her true character comes through, one depending on God to care for her and her loved ones.

Just as the hard times prove Abby's heart of faith, so they will test other characters, and find them wanting. Abby's husband Steve, who already showed signs of weakness in the first novel, not surprisingly develops even greater problems when demand for lawyers dries up. Daniel Porter, married with young children, at first seems able to withstand the hardships. After all, he has always been able to take care of himself and family as long as he could work hard. He never had a problem with being lazy or taking to "the doublings" (liquor). Yet as the years and problems accumulate, Daniel seems unable to let go of the past, such as his dream to buy back the land. Perhaps his confidence has been in himself, not in God, and now the temptation of alcohol rings stronger.

Other characters are back, including the ever-troublesome Clack family, for more clan conflict. Abby's stepmother Elsa, and half-brother Solomon (Elsa's son) have larger roles as well, and it is exciting to follow their lives through the years. Appropriately enough, too, Abby's sons become part of the story in later years, perhaps setting the stage for the next book in this enriching series. Highland Mercies is a strong follow-up in the "Blue Ridge Legacy," and I look forward to the next book in the series.

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