Friday, August 23, 2013

The Preacher's Bride: A Recommendation

Where do I begin with Jody Hedlund's The Preacher's Bride? I find myself conflicted. On the one hand Jody's is the first romance novel I have ever read outside of Jane Austen; ergo I find it difficult to call her an exemplary of that genre. However, books are books, and The Preacher's Bride is an excellent one regardless of genre. Given modern romance's reputation for being less than literary, I can only assume that this fine work is the best that genre has to offer. But as I've said, I do not know if that is where I'd like to start. 

A better place, perhaps a more appropriate place for one author to recommend another's, is to speak of execution, plain and simple.  The highest compliment that I can give Jody is that she makes it seem so easy, not unlike George Lucas and Steven Spielberg made it seem with their blockbuster hits of this late 70s and early 80s. In some ways, I feel like The Preacher's Bride is to romance novels as Indiana Jones and Star Wars are to pop culture film, in that all of these projects make good storytelling look effortless. Hedlund's composition as well as her structure and design are such that they feel organic and natural, plucked from the memory of a person present at the events as they unfolded. The fine-tuned story and rounded characters in The Preacher's Bride are unmistakably well-written and carefully developed; and the levels on which the book works are numerous. The pleasure one gets in reading it, is well, the stuff of which "good reading" is made. Being a writer I know that such execution is difficult, and I also realize that making one's craft seem natural and easy is perhaps the best writing of all. 

But what good is praising a novel without a bit of an introduction to it. The Preachers Bride follows the story of Elizabeth, who we join in a powerful, moving, and oftentimes heartbreaking journey over the course of her adult life. I have cheered for fewer characters to the same degree that I did for her (she even beat out the charismatic Katnis Everdeen). Perhaps I just caught the book at the right time in my life or it's just that good, but Hedlund's heroine is a welcome protagonist in the age of the anti-hero. She is lovely, admirable, and undeniably compelling. Elizabeth is a version of the Proverbs 31 woman in full effect, and her story almost serves as a commentary to that ancient text.

But Elizabeth is one character among a host of interesting cast members (some of whom are stock types but nonetheless, fun); and while her plate is certainly the most gripping, it is not the only one of interest to the reader. Hedlund has created a tapestry out of the small town in which this story takes place, and the reader will enjoy getting to know it's many citizens, both the heroic and the horrible.

I find it hard to recommend any single book for everyone, but I can honestly say that I would recommend The Preacher's Bride to anyone. This is not to say that I think men will enjoy the book as much as women, nor that I think all women will enjoy it equally. But I would say that I have great confidence in Hedlund's prose, in that good writing is good writing and will move those who are open to it. That being said, and it is very little considering the content of this book, I highly recommend Jody Hedlund's The Preacher's Bride to those looking for a new novel to read this fall — the book just seems appropriate to the fall--and I would be interested to hear from anyone who gives the book a chance.

Frankly, I cannot recommend this book enough, and I look forward to the next opportunity I have to read it!

PS - I should note that without having read this book, I may never have considered writing a romance novel myself, so I am indebted to Jody for her work's being directly inspiring and motivating as well as entertaining and engaging.

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