Preparing to become a vicar to a rural church closed for nearly 40 years, Father Timothy Kavanagh considers the challenges ahead: "He would still wear his collar and vestments; he would still celebrate the liturgy and perform all the other offices of a priest. So indeed, hardly anything would change." Then he thinks, "And so what if things did change." Father Tim could easily be speaking to Jan Karon's enormous readership: things will indeed change this is the last Mitford novel.
Karon has been preparing us for this farewell for some time. She began weaning readers from the little North Carolina town with 2000's A New Song, when Father Tim and his writer-artist wife Cynthia moved to Whitecap Island, where he served as interim priest for a year. Much of Light from Heaven takes place outside of Mitford as well, either on Meadowgate Farm, where the couple are staying for a year, or in the new church and parish of Holy Trinity, which includes a wide range of vivid characters. There's loquacious five-year-old Sissie; Jubal Adderholt and his squirrel-tail decorated home; Clarence, a gifted (and deaf) woodworker; and his mother Agnes, an Episcopal deacon. Still, Mitford is not far away, and Father Tim takes us on regular trips there.
Father Tim also struggles with the question of when to tell Dooley about his inheritance from Miss Sadie, looks for some money Louella has just remembered that Miss Sadie hid in a car, and engages in e-mail correspondence with former secretary Emma about her forthcoming trip to England. We meet the numerous and multitalented Flower Girls; there's a poacher on the farm. Two deaths occur in Mitford (one of which inspires the townspeople to take on an engaging new habit), as well as a wedding. Life and change go on.
So where do we go from here? Wherever Jan Karon takes us next, we can be sure it will be worth the trip . . . and the wait.
Joanne Collings writes from Washington, D.C.