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A Common Life: The Wedding Story    by Jan Karon order for
Common Life
by Jan Karon
Order:  USA  Can
Penguin, 2002 (2001)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio

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* *   Reviewed by G. Hall

Jan Karon's Mitford books continues to delight her legions of fans. A Common Life is the sixth entry in this series about Father Tim and life in a small North Carolina town. Karon, for many years a successful New York advertising writer, returned to her southern roots to create the wonderful village of Mitford. She then populated it with a host of interesting and quirky characters (with a capital C). Father Tim, the endearing center of these tales, is a 60-ish Episcopal minister. Karon has said she wanted to write humorous and caring books, without profanity or explicit sex and about the ups and downs in the lives of ordinary people. She has admirably succeeded in these novels which have become immensely popular, with her seventh book, In This Mountain, currently on the New York Times best-seller list.

All this may seem a bit saccharine, but the stories are not overly sweet or religious. Instead they provide a restful escape with Father Tim, who quietly integrates his deep faith in all aspects of his life and helps the townspeople, whether parishioners or not. At the start of this series, Father Tim is a bachelor without any idea of ever marrying. However, his life changes suddenly when a children's book writer and illustrator, the enchanting Cynthia, moves in next door. Their slow and tentative courtship is central to the first several books. However, they also encapsulate other stories about a wide variety of memorable townspeople including Dooley, the homeless adolescent Father Tim takes into his household and Barnabas, the rambunctious dog, tamed only by loud proclamations of scripture.

In A Common Life, Father Tim and Cynthia are finally to be married, after many hesitations and doubts on the part of shy Father Tim. Although this story covers the time from engagement to wedding to honeymoon, it was written 6th in the series, several volumes after the author had married Father Tim and Cynthia off-stage (between two of the earlier books). When readers wrote to protest, she decided to write about the marriage and said it was her favorite of the series, since it depicted the love of two middle-aged people who had never thought to find such happiness.

This is only a slim volume (186 pages) without much drama, but it is still a lovely read from the bumbling proposal at the start to the funny mishaps on their honeymoon in an isolated Maine cabin. Current Mitford fans will enjoy reading about the wedding they missed and readers new to the series will want to check out the earlier episodes, conveniently sold now as a set of 4 (The Mitford Years: At Home in Mitford, A Light in the Window, These High, Green Hills and Out to Canaan). These are just the kind of books to read when real life's trials and tribulations get you down and you want to retreat to a simpler place and time.

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