Book #6 in Mother Reader’s 48 Hour Book Challenge.
“Until the dot.com bubble burst, George Bailey never gave much thought to why his grandfather seemed so happy.” George Bailey goes back to visit his grandfather’s Central Illinois hometown, Abbeville, and perhaps learn the source of his grandfather’s strength and resilience. The novel skips back and forth between George’s story and that of his grandfather, Karl Schumpeter. It turns out that Karl’s story is a sort of serious, more believable version of It’s a Wonderful Life. (George Bailey says he owes his name to his mother Betty’s sense of humor.) And there’s more to Karl’s life than just a tale of endurance through the trials of the Great Depression and two world wars.
This novel can be enjoyed on many levels. It’s a family/generational saga about the ups and downs of twentieth century history as they affect one town and one family. It’s a story of four generations of young men coming of age, with a fishing trip on the river to anchor and serve as a metaphor for maturation and for the financial cycles that affect the family’s lives. It’s a spiritual narrative about a man’s rise to prominence, his fall to ignominy, and his redemption in the love of small things and of work done well.
It seems as if I’m always reminded of some other work of literature when I read a book. This one reminded me of The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington, maybe because of the time period beginning in about 1910, and maybe because of the midwestern setting, or maybe because both books are about the rise and fall of a family dynasty in a small town. Abbeville is, however, filled with a grace and sympathy that Tarkington’s novel lacked.
Key quotation from a French cure (priest) to Karl during World War I:
“And as to your fear, remember that God’s grace is nothing you need to repay, nor is punishment the proof of sin. This is the first great mystery, my son, and it is only made bearable by the second, which is love.”
“You see,” the cure said, “fortune is not the outcome of a test. Good or bad, it is the test.”
Thanks to Unbridled Books for sending me a copy of this novel for review. I’ve never heard of Jack Fuller, although the back cover blurb describes him as “a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial writer who has published six broadly acclaimed novels and a book of non-fiction.” I don’t know about the other six, but I am seriously impressed with the novel Abbeville.