I absolutely loved “Home To Harmony” and “Just Shy Of Harmony”, earlier books in the Harmony series by this author, but “Life Goes On” left me with a very different aftertaste. The book covers the fourth year of Sam Gardner as the minister of a small Quaker congregation. Once again, the story focuses on Sam’s relationship with various members of his church.
The book had some parts that made me laugh hysterically, such as the chapter where the church secretary gives Sam a ferret for his boys. Then there was the chapter where a vegetarian girl is chosen as the “Sausage Queen” for the annual parade and scholarship. The stories about having laryngitis on Sunday morning, having a close encounter with an endangered animal, and trying to repair things at home without using a professional were amusing.
But the majority of the book was quite negative. The members of Sam’s congregation are nasty people. They start rumors, tell lies about Sam, battle over who’s going to teach a Sunday School class, steal, and hate Democrats and liberal media. The mental picture that the reader gets is that most Christians are legalistic, narrow-minded, vindictive people.
Dale Hinshaw is a major player in the storyline. He treats his wife shabbily while pretending to be a super-spiritual person. He is hungry for power and position, and is part of the attempt to fire Sam. Previous books give Dale some redeeming qualities, but in this novel there is nothing good about him. He is a character to be despised.
Even Sam is a great disappointment, not sure of what he believes, and unwilling to stand up to the people who are destroying him. He seems apathetic throughout the story. Instead of being a leader of his little congregation, his little congregation drags him around and beats him up. It seems to me that he needs to find another job.
“Life Goes On” left me with a sour taste in my mouth, and a wish that I had passed on this book.
The story that began with “Home To Harmony” continues on in “Just Shy Of Harmony”. The first book was the feel-good one, the one that made you want to live in the quaint little town of Harmony. But the second book has a decidedly different feel about it. Life is not so rosy. Pastor Sam is underpaid, overworked, tired of tending to the problems of everyone, and is beginning to question if there is a God. During Sam’s spiritual crisis, other members of the congregation take over the Sunday morning preaching.
But Sam’s not the only having troubles. There’s Dale Hinshaw, who is trying to get his scripture-chicken-egg evangelism program off the ground. Jessie Peacock, through no effort of her own, has won millions of dollars in the lottery, but wants to refuse the money. Wayne Fleming is struggling to raise his kids after his wife Sally runs off, but is shocked when she returns and wants to just go back to normal.
Mixed in with the problems of the church folk are the heartwarming parts of the book, like when one of the women at church took Wayne’s children under her wing. Also very touching was when the women’s group from church took over the hospital kitchen to make homemade noodle and chicken for a woman who was a patient there. (That didn’t seem like something the health department would allow in real life, but hey, this is fiction.) And I loved that the church members were willing to anoint Sally with oil and lay hands on her in prayer, even though their church had never done that before.
Overall, I enjoyed this Philip Gulley novel just as much as the first one!
Welcome to the little town of Harmony! Sam Gardner grew up there, went away to college, and is now returning (with wife and kids) to be the pastor of the small Quaker church congregation. He’s getting re-acquainted with many of the people he knew as a child, and meeting new folks.
This book has a similar feel to the “Mitford” books written by Jan Karon, although the male characters are more dominant in this book. My favorite character – beside Sam of course – was Sam’s ancient male secretary, who didn’t always see so well but had a real heart for encouraging people around him. Reading about Harmony made me wish the town really existed so that I could visit it.
Excerpt from the first page:
“I liked living where I did, in Harmony. I liked that the Dairy Queen sold ice cream cones for a dime. I liked that I could ride my Schwinn Typhoon there without crossing Main Street, which my mother didn’t allow.
I liked that I lived four blocks from the Kroger grocery store, where every spring they stacked bags of peat moss out front. My brother and I would climb on the bags and vault from stack to stack. Once, on a particularly high leap, my brother hit the K in KROGER with his head, causing the neon tube to shatter. For the next year, the sign flashed ROGER, which we considered an amazing coincidence since that was my brother’s name. He liked to pass by at night and see his name in lights.”