Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Review: All Manner of Things by Susie Finkbeiner

There are many time in the history of mankind where Julian of Norwich's words, "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well," speak directly to us, inspiring hope, evoking prayer, and offering solace. Somehow these words just seem to carry peace. As the epigraph to Susie Finkbeiner's well-written, gentle novel All Manner of Things, the words are incredibly fitting.

It's 1967 and Annie Jacobson is eighteen. She lives with her mother and two brothers, one older and one younger. She works as a waitress in a diner. Life in this West Michigan town is pretty ordinary and Annie's life is generally contented and commonplace. But as the novel opens, her older brother Mike is enlisting in the Army, knowing full well that this will get him sent to Vietnam. Their father left the family years before, chased by his own demons left over from fighting in Korea so they all know of the damage that war can inflict, even on those who come home again. As the remaining Jacobsons go about their lives in the wake of Mike's enlistment, Annie tries to figure out where her life is taking her even as she faces the hope and fear of living every day with Mike overseas at war, the confusion of her father's arrival back in their lives, and the uncertainty of a budding relationship.

Finkbeiner has done a beautiful job evoking the time period and in portraying Annie's balancing on the cusp of her whole life. All of the characters here are quite appealing and she's drawn a realistically loving extended family and community and woven their faith in as an integral part of life. The chapters are short and frequently followed by letters to and from Mike, Annie, their parents and others, offering additional insights into each character and the place in which they find themselves. As the war comes to touch more people, the reader feels the same drop in their stomach that Annie does each and every time but the reader also feels the lightness Annie feels as she comes to appreciate the sweet steadiness of love and caring. As the Jacobsons grow and change over the course of not quite a year, they come together in comfort and heartbreak, happiness and sorrow, and they find and offer forgiveness as they look to the unknown of the future. There is a bittersweet, poignant feel to the novel and the feel of another, simpler time.   Somehow Finkbeiner has captured a beautiful calmness here, that certainty reflected in Julian of Norwich's words: "all manner of things shall be well."  This is a lovely, engaging, and winsome read.

Thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewers for a copy of the book for review.

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