Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Years by LaVyrle Spencer *****

LaVyrle Spencer is such a wonderful storyteller - in addition to her characterizations of her heroes and heroines, she usually weaves a wonderful web of family and neighbors that draw me into their world as one of their own.

Years is another of these stories, one that is not just about a young naive schoolteacher and an older widowed father but also about his extended family that makes up a large part of the rural South Dakota town and their Norwegian ways of farm life. In that framework, there is a heart-warming story of how an 18-year-old brash city girl and a 34-year-old farmer meet and fall in love in 1917.

Linnea is the oldest daughter of 3, from Norwegian/Swedish family that lives in Fargo. She completes "normal school" and gets a teaching position in a small, 1-room schoolhouse in a farm town. Theodore lives near this town with his mother and his 16-year-old son Kristian - Kristian's mother abandoned the two of them when Kristian was 1, and was later killed in an accident. He has traditionally offered room and board to the area school teacher, and is at the station to pick him up when he discovers he is a she. Convinced the new teacher is too young and too wet behind the ears, he tries to convince her to just go home - but she's willful and headstrong enough to get her way.

Spencer's characters include Teddy's bachelor brother John and their other brothers and sister and their families; little first-grader Roseanne who lisps; the preacher's son Allan who is always in trouble; the traveling farm workers, including the cook Isabelle - a whole network of fully developed, 3 dimensional people I fell in love with, laughed with, and cried over.

There were no Big Misunderstandings, no Secret Pregnancies, no suspense or murder or kidnapping or any of the common plots that run the Romance engine. Just the story of meeting, living, falling in love and experiencing the circle of life. And yet this story was just as touching, as emotionally wrenching, as compelling as any of those fanciful plots that keep you on your toes and guessing.

I could describe more of the plot, but really - it's just the story of lives lived well - people who farmed, danced, played cards, fought and made up, fell ill and recovered, fell ill and died. I'm still shaken over the deaths from the Spanish flu. Spencer brings these people into my heart, into my life and makes me love them, feel their pain and joy, and leaves me wanting more.

I'm going with 5 stars - I was thinking 4, but now that I've thought it over, I truly loved this story.

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