Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Happy People by Sara Jenkins

Let me see....where do I start? 

First, it's not very often I choose a book without having any clue as to what it is about.  But I did with The Happy People because of its title, and because it was written in 1953.  For about the same price as a BK Whopper I figured I couldn't lose.  (Mmmm...Whoppers)

Second, it's not very often I purchase a book and finish it within 24 hours.  (The last time I did it was when I found a copy of Bridges of Madison County.)
The Happy People is 246 pages long and I devoured page after page of it, only stopping long enough to go to church and feed my family some pot roast. (Why not Whoppers...What happened to the Whoppers?)

The book is written by Sara Jenkins and after a bit of late-night research I discovered she also wrote another book called The Brand New Parson.  I found a used copy on Amazon and needless to say, the Fed X  man will be ringing my doorbell in 1 to 2 days.

In The Happy People, Jenkins introduces us to the small town of Kinsman GA and it's townsfolk.  The town was recently built by J.G. Kinsman, owner of the local cloth factory.  J.G. Kinsman is rich, powerful and...well he pretty much owns the town seeing as how he built it.  As I read the story I began to picture the ex-NASA millionaire from the TV series Northern Exposure, played by actor Barry Corbin lol. 


I can't talk about a book without actually TALKING about a book.  So if you plan to read the book, and don't want to know any more about it's juicy details, then please feel free to stop reading.   Or, if you're already bored to tears and your eyes are all glazed over like mine get when hubby tries to explain spreadsheets to me, then stop reading.   Gee-wiz, life is too short and you won't hurt my feelings.

J.G. Kinsman built the town to serve his factory.  A river runs through town and on one side J.G. has built small, but comfortable homes for his factory workers.  The other side of town boasts larger homes for other inhabitants of the community such as the factory chemist, and a few other interesting characters.  There is a large home for J.G. Kinsman himself and his family, and a parsonage for our main character, the new Methodist preacher, Stephen Elliot, who lives with his widowed sister and her son in the parsonage. 

The book revolves around the growth of Stephen Elliot as a person and as a pastor.  He is plagued by personal struggle...he is in love with his ex-collage girlfriend, Claire, who just happens to pop up in Kinsman at just the right time.  She is beautiful, stylish, a good decorator....but divorced.  Being a Methodist preacher, Stephen has no choice but to leave the ministry if he wants to marry Claire.  The author is so good because throughout the first few chapters my opinion of Claire kept changing.  At first I didn't like her at all, then just as I'd start to feel sorry for her, she'd do something or say something to tick me off again.  I kept thinking, "What does he even see in this woman, she's kinda vain, stuffy and at times a bit selfish!?"  But then again, who isn't at times.
This struggle with his love for Claire begins to weigh heavily upon Stephen.

One dark and rainy evening, his gal-pal, Joey asks him, "Where are the happy people?"  It's a key question throughout the book and a question that intrigues Stephen.  It gets him to thinking about Joey and why she is not happy.  After all, she is J.G. Kinsman's daughter...she has every material possession she could ask for.  (Ah...but material possessions aren't a replacement for a father's love are they?)  Joey is mostly ignored by her family, she lives alone in the guest house and they won't let her take a job.  Joey is different from Claire in many ways, she's about the same age but more of a free spirit, trying to find her place in the world.  She is not as beautiful as Claire and I liked her for that because I felt I could relate to her in that way.  I'm sure writing Joey in this way was no accident by the author as I would venture to guess a few of us feel we are not as beautiful as the beauty queen down the street or the woman sitting in front of us in church.  This book, through Joey, reminded me that beauty isn't everything.

After three weeks of non-stop rain, Stephen's personal struggles start to affect his work, and our pastor friend is close to a nervous breakdown.  He takes a few days off, gets into his car and drives towards the Smokey Mountains having no actual destination in mind.  (We've all been there right?  I felt like singing "Jesus Take the Wheel")

He falls asleep at the wheel and "accidentally" finds himself in a village called "City of Brothers" full of welcoming people. At first I thought to myself, "this could get creepy in a 'Children of the Corn' kind of way", but thankfully, it didn't.

These welcoming villagers left the hustle and bustle of their regular, big-city lives to live off of the land and become farmers, potters, weavers and such.  They live in 300 year old farm houses and log homes and describe themselves as "normal" people as they still read the newspaper, keep up with world views, and use modern appliances.  They are well educated, well read, and have shelves upon shelves of books in their living rooms. (sounds like my kind of place).  They are deeply religious and try to "walk with God" in everything they do.

This small village was the safe haven Stephen needed.  After a few meaningful conversations  with the villagers (worth the price of the book right there) and in only two days, Stephen thinks he's found his way back to God.

He heads back to Kinsman and preaches the most emotional, eye-opening sermon of his life...and it's a good one! (again, totally worth the price of the book right there!)  But, many of the townsfolk disapprove, especially J.G. Kinsman, and even Stephen's own beloved Claire.  But he reaches Joey and we find that his sermon was exactly what Joey needed to hear. (and apparently, that's a pretty big deal for a pastor).

Then tragedy strikes.  Four weeks of steady rain, plus a town with a river running through it...well...you do the math.  Let's just say lives are changed.  Points of view are changed, and people are seen in new ways.

I'll leave the rest to you...if you have the opportunity to read it, please do.  It is full of little life lessons about what we think we want, what God thinks we need and the ability to just let God be God.

".....He had prayed in the City of Brothers, "Thy will be done, and may I be shown the way I can do it."  He prayed it once more now, humbly, a he walked toward the parsonage, adding, "Keep her happy, Lord.  and the Kinsmans, and all of the lost, and misguided, and contrary.  All of us are so--so--"  He could think of no better words than "Stupid and weak."  He wasn't satisfied but he was sure God knew what he meant...."

Until Tomorrow,
Have a Happy Day!

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