Amid open fields and empty pews, small towns can crush big dreams.
Abandoned by his no-good father and forced to grow up too soon, Noble Burden has set his dreams aside to run the family farm. Meanwhile, James Horton, the pastor of the local church, questions his own calling as he prepares to close the doors for good.
As a severe storm rolls through, threatening their community and very livelihood, both men fear losing what they care about most . . . and reconsider where they truly belong.
Back inside, Mama sat at the table with a fresh cup of coffee and an unfolded copy of the ‘Sycamore Daily Ledger’. She read out loud the headline about the closing of the church. “Wow. I didn’t know it was getting that bad.”
“Yeah. Reverend Horton was at the Onion last night and told me a little about it. Asked me to play at the last three services.” He poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down at the table with her.
“Did he now?” She looked over the newspaper at him.
“Figured I’d help him out. Must be rough, losing everything you’ve worked for. Raising Shelby without his wife. I feel bad for the guy.”
Laurie sighed and refolded the paper, then gazed out the window in the direction of the Hortons’ place. “Me too . . . Speaking of which, how are things with you and Shelby?”
“Same, I guess.”
“Give her time. She’ll get back to her old self.”
“I don’t know. She seems so . . . out there.” Noble shook his head and turned the cup of coffee in his hands. He looked into her eyes. “Pain changes people so. Changed her. Changed the reverend. Changed you.”
She ran her hand through the hair she used to use to hide the bruises Dad left on her face, pushed back her chair, and went to the kitchen sink. “Yes, I suppose it has.”
Noble watched his mama wash a white bowl she’d used to make a cherry pie the night before. She rubbed and rubbed at the rosy stains. “Time doesn’t always heal things, ‘specially when someone dies . . . or leaves. Makes you feel like you can’t go back to the way things were. And you can’t, really. Like trying to get creek water back that’s already run on past.”
“Reverend Horton sure won’t have much left now that his church is shuttin’ down.”
“Maybe not. But sometimes when God takes away, you end up with more than you had to start with.”
“That’s not what’s happened with us.”
She bowed her head and rubbed her temples. “I know.”
This novel was a little slow to get started, with the first 20% or so setting the scene and filling the reader in on the background to the story and its characters. That being said, there was a kind of soothing lilt to the writing and a nostalgic quality to many of the reflections that quietly drew me in to the characters’ lives, even as I wondered when the story would really start to go somewhere.
The novel opens with Reverend James Horton being informed that the bank is foreclosing on the church’s loans and auctioning off the building in three weeks’ time. It is yet another death in James’s life, and just one of many symptoms of a town that is slowly dying, with local farmers struggling to compete against the corporate farms taking over the industry. Noble Burden is one of the lucky ones – so far – even if he wishes he could leave town and pursue his dream to go to Nashville. His family’s dairy farm has survived despite abandonment by his abusive father, despite the last three years’ drought, and despite having no say in the price they get for each gallon of milk. But it’s an existence, and little more.
Both James and Noble have known grief in their lives, and this is the background that is filled in over the course of the opening chapters. James’s wife was killed in a car accident two years earlier, returning from a statewide voice contest with their daughter, Shelby. After recovering from the accident, Shelby abandoned her singing, her friends, and especially her closest friend, Noble Burden. Instead, she has taken up with Cade Canady, a boy who shows all the signs of following in his father’s footsteps as the town bully.
Noble’s father was an abusive man, and his mother has closed herself off from the community since their father’s abandonment. His older brother, Eustace, is unusually strong, but does not speak and often seems oblivious to the world around him, prone to wandering and being unable to find his way home. But perhaps the hardest thing of all is watching the girl he has always loved push him away in favour of a guy who’s definitely no good for her.
It is against this backdrop that the real story begins to unfold as James and Noble struggle to reconcile their dreams with their reality, and find the peace God promises amidst life’s storms. James must come to terms with a life that has been ripped out from under his feet, and Noble is given the opportunity of a lifetime when a talent scout hears him play at the local bar and offers him a visit to Nashville. And through it all they are bound by a common thread: their love and concern for Shelby.
Despite its slow beginning, this was an enjoyable read. It was a more reflective style of writing that was a little slower than I generally prefer, but it combined with the gentle cadence of the words in a way that was redolent of the quiet, small-town atmosphere. My heart ached for these characters as they worked through the changes confronting them, and just like them, I felt a real sense of homecoming at the novel’s conclusion.
I received a complimentary copy of this novel from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.
Release date: 3 May 2016
Publisher: Tyndale House
Author’s website: https://amyksorrells.com/