Imagine this recipe: you take the tone of a classic story like ?Little House on the Prairie?; the voice of a woman like Marty, of Janette Oke?s ?Love Comes Softly? series; set her down in north central Pennsylvania just as the 1800?s become the 1900?s. Then, add in a character who just may be the Huckleberry Finn, after several decades of wandering and mellowing, and for a finishing touch, give it just a hint of ?Jane Eyre?. You just might end up with something that tasted like Larry Kimport?s ?A Small Harvest of Pretty Days.?
The book hooks the reader at the beginning with a plot device unusual for this type of story ? Clara, the first-person narrator, describes how the first time she saw the man she came to know as Mr. Finley, she was running for her life. In the opening scene, Clara hints at how she knows, from personal experience, that the man she was running from meant her harm. As she hides inside a fallen tree ? and this is a nice touch, since the trees of that era were big enough for a grown person to fit inside ? she witnesses a murder. From my perspective, the questions surrounding this murder continue to pull the reader through the story, and change it from just another novel for the historical fiction shelves.
Indeed, Kimport blends the techniques and topics of contemporary fiction with the milieu and voice of a bygone era. The setting of the Twin Tiers in the 1890?s is effectively woven into Clara?s story, using details of the chores of daily life, the discussions on the lumber business heard around the dinner table with important male guests, the descriptions of clothing and tools, the leisure activities of the well-to-do, and the hardships of most travel. Occasionally, this historical setting and the voices of the characters are out-of-sync with the frank discussion of rape and murder that drives the plot. Nevertheless, Kimport is usually able to smooth this over by prefacing these revelations with how utterly Clara?s life is devastated by her experience and the community?s opinion of her as a result, or by having male characters say, ?we shouldn?t be talking about this gruesome murder in the presence of women and children.?
?A Small Harvest of Pretty Days? is marketed as a fictional love story, and as a ?what-if? sequel to Mark Twain?s ?The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.? While those ingredients are in there, that?s not the strongest flavor. I felt the author did a better job evoking rural America at the turn of the last century, and of leaving the ?why? of the murder open. I was more intrigued with the information on the railroads coming through the Williamsport area, and the lumber being moved down the Susquehanna River, and the day-to-day activities necessary for running a farm. The development of the love story and the mystery as to whether or not Mr. Finley was Huck Finn were a little obvious to me, although the love story is nice in and of itself. Any fan of Janette Oke or Lori Wick or Judith Pella?s Christian historical romances will enjoy this aspect of Kimport?s novel. And I did like reading a love story that wasn?t all convoluted with war stories, or full of vampires, for once. What kept me reading, however, was wanting answers to the same questions that bothered Clara ? why would this seemingly nice man, this Mr. Finley who was so kind and helpful to her, kill a man? And why didn?t it seem to bother him? Was he responsible for the other brutal murders that were shocking the entire area?
The answer is a creative one, and doesn?t resolve until near the end of the book, in just the plot structure your junior high English teacher explained to you. I found the resolution, as well as the epilogue of Clara?s life, ultimately quite satisfying. At 181 pages, and reasonably priced at $12.97, I?d recommend Kimport?s book to any reader looking for a good recipe with more to it than expected.
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