Tuesday, September 14, 2004

New Age Grannies

This book often is compared to the Mitford series by Jan Karon and it is easy to see why. Both are gentle stories set in small towns that dwell on small adventures that allow personal growth. I can heartily recommend the Karon books, particularly the first four. Sadly, I cannot do the same for The Ladies of Covington.

On the surface this is a gentle story of three widows in their 60s who band together to make a new, better life in a house that one has inherited. The ladies all grow in unexpected ways, each has personal moments of experiencing God, and the story moves along pretty well. So why did I feel like a prude by the time I finished the book? Basically, this book is a package of modern morality charmingly presented through three old ladies who are learning to spread their wings.

Every personal problem always is someone else's fault, usually involving male bashing. In varying degrees, each was the victim of a neglectful, selfish husband who sacrificed the wife's individuality and desires to their own needs. This excuse is treated as carte blanche for the wives to do whatever makes them happy in the name of finally getting to express their individuality. As soon as these decisions are made, immediate gratification is the reward. There is no such thing as weighing consequences or responsibility, except in one situation with a grandchild who drinks. Grace is the poster child for this philosophy. Her feelings of having been trapped in a bad marriage lead her to reject an offer of marriage from the man she loves. Instead they agree to become lovers, leading Grace to the first satisfying sexual experience of her life. This pattern is echoed in practically every relationship in the book.

Although each "experiences" God once during the book (whatever that is supposed to mean), it is evidently so that the Lord may reassure them to find themselves. In what is meant to be a climactic foot washing scene, two women marvel that they both realized how much they love each other as friends. I suppose God already gave them the seal of approval earlier so He's staying out of the way.

As sappy as the Mitford books can be, there at least is honest examination of the consequences of one's actions. God is never viewed as a supporting character who encourages everyone to do whatever feels good at the time. I certainly don't require this from every book I read but, no matter how light the fiction, I do require honesty and a sense of responsibility. This is the essence of good story telling. Some of my favorite "popcorn for your brain" books such as the girl, bounty hunter Stephanie Plum series or the wizard, detective Dresden Files series have the characters giving in to extreme, feel good temptation (or, to be honest, sometimes casual temptation). However, it is never without a price and the characters always come to grips with the consequences of their actions. Without these conflicts, The Ladies of Covington are nothing but navel-gazing indulgence. Avoid this book at all costs.

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