If it had not been for Gladys Hunt’s mention of this book in Honey for a Woman’s Heart, I would never have heard of it. Although the blurbs called it “charming,” “heartwarming,” and “lovely,” I approached the book with my usual skepticism toward anything written in the 20th Century. The beginning was awkward – a stilted conversation between an unwed mother, her father and a stodgy old maid. But as the character of Agatha McGee takes shape, you really begin to care about her and words like “stodgy” and “old maid” don’t fit anymore.
Agatha is in a crisis. She’s looking for meaning in her life after decades of teaching in a parochial school. Her staunch catholic faith seems threatened by the many modern changes occurring in her local church. Her correspondence with another disgruntled Catholic is her only comfort. The book is about her journey to Ireland to meet him and about all the people she touches with her sweet, faithful life. A few off-color moments were not enough to distract me from this compelling story. As one reviewer noted, these characters don’t always do what you want them to do, but they always act according to their beliefs, which is satisfying in its own way.
I loved this book. Hassler has a gift for writing a tender narrative that never crosses over into sentimentality. Fortunately Hassler’s books are readily available through PaperBackSwap and I look forward to reading the two other books with Agatha as their protagonist: Dear James and A New Woman.
A sample of Hassler's wonderful prose:
Lillian was powerfully boring. It had long ago become clear to Agatha that she and Lillian were friends not because they held interests or experiences in common but because for nearly seven decades their back doors had been facing one another across the alley. At least once a week, usually on Saturday mornings, Lillian and Agatha met to share a pot of coffee and whatever they knew of their neighbors, and that was exactly as much of Lillian as Agatha could stand. She knew, of course, that a mind as frivolous as Lillian’s was not without its virtues. The woman was honest, simplehearted and enviably placid. Nevertheless, it was a mind spongy with sentiment and empty of logic, and the light it gave off was so dim that it sometimes made Agatha shudder the way she used to when she was six and afraid of the dark. (p. 13)