Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A Hearth in Candlewood: Candlewood Trilogy in 1840s New York State

A Hearth in Candlewood, by Delia Parr, begins a nice “Candlewood Trilogy” series. Set in 1841, this story chronicles the lives of several residents at a boarding house in a canal village in upstate New York.

Widow Emma Garrett, in her early fifties, recently sold her general store and bought the Hill House. Her new business venture includes several residents, including her mother-in-law (another “Widow Garrett”) and an elderly former pastor, as well as guests who make frequent trips to the area. Two teenage workers, Liesl and Ditty, provide help to the kitchen and general upkeep of the boarding house.

When an elderly grandmother and widow runs away from her feuding sons to stay at Hill House, Emma quickly becomes involved in trying to reconcile the sons with their mother, but encounters problems along the way.

The canals running along nearby are ever present in the background, named as the mode of transportation for people visiting Candlewood, New York. Occasionally we even meet characters who work at the ship yards, the major employment of the area. However, this story is more focused on the actual characters, with few details of the canal operations, for a story that could take place in any time or place.

The story is the focus, a nice, “chicken soup for the soul” type of feel-good story about nice, simple characters in this village. Unlike most Christian historicals, the main characters are older adults. As such, their problems are not the exciting, page-turner suspense type, but the more mundane everyday problems of life. Emma knows nothing of today’s big societal problems, and instead frets about such things as: what people will think of her for wearing unconventional clothing when she goes horseback riding with two eccentric visitors. Or, how to keep Liesl and Ditty at the boarding house and away from the temptations of boys (at least, unchaperoned visits). And, for the biggest and somewhat humorous one, how to handle several renegade chickens that run loose in the town and then decide to roost at the Hill House.

Throughout the story, Emma always seeks solutions, wanting the best for everyone around her. She also sees herself as a good business woman, with plenty of experience from running a general store and now the boarding house. Yet her biggest worry she keeps to herself: news from her lawyer that she bought the boarding house from an unscrupulous salesman who did not have the right to sell it to her – and thus, she does not legally own title to the Hill House. So Emma must consider her own past actions, questioning her motives and judgement, as she continually remembers to trust God in everything.

A Hearth in Candlewood is a nice beginning to the “Candlewood Trilogy.” Some conflicts are resolved, but the biggest question, Emma’s questionable ownership of the actual property, are left for us to wonder – for the next story in the series.