Sunday, December 4, 2016

Book Review: A Gathering Place

A Fair Trade Book

Title: A Gathering Place

Authors: Thomas Kinkade and Katherine Spencer

Date: 2003

Publisher: Berkley/Penguin

ISBN: 0-425-19004-8

Length: 360 pages

Quote: “I am so happy once again to welcome you to Cape Light…a place where the pace is slower and people stop to savor the simple pleasures…I wanted to convey with words the same vision that my artwork expresses with paint—the values of faith, hope, family, and community.”

In 2003 the suicidally depressed “Painter of Light” didn’t have much more time to paint over his inner conflicts, but in A Gathering Place he did it again; there’s a lovely old New England church with glowing windows on the dust jacket, and a long story about all the nice neighbors who help each other through their various troubles in that purely imaginary church.

So we meet Mayor Emily Warwick, who gave up a daughter for adoption twenty-some years ago, and her daughter, Sara, who was happily adopted and has graduated from college already, and Dan Forbes, who is “trying to put out a paper with no staff” (oh, can I ever relate—which is why I don’t believe him), and his son, Wyatt, who edits Sara’s writing in Dan’s paper, and Digger, the old fisherman who gets lost in the fog on the beach one night, and other neighbors who “had worked together in a cooperative spirit typical of this town” to find him, including the Reverend Ben Anderson, whose quarrel with his own son is adversely affecting his ability to counsel other people…Sara even seriously wonders whether she should consider Wyatt as a “boyfriend,” while separated from the young man she’s been dating, and we’re not explicitly told why Wyatt’s such a wrong choice for Sara, but…

They’re all nice Christian people. They pray in times of crisis and say grace before meals. They’re the way the congregation of a small-town church want to be seen, which may be why I don’t quite get into their story. Was there an earlier “Cape Light Story” that explains why Emily looks at Dan when she wants “a little romance in her life”? Why did Dan’s wife leave, and where did she go? Am I reading too much into this romance between a single mother and a divorced man?

Everything works out, of course. On the final page Emily quotes a Bible text, “All things work together for good to them that love God.”

Somewhere, sometime, something like this story might have been real…for Spencer, if not for Kinkade. If you don’t quite believe it was, you wish it had been.

Personally…regular readers know that I’m not a Positive Thinker. I suspect Kinkade might have lived longer if he’d forced himself to look directly into the darkness in his life, instead of trying to see only the light. I’d feel better about fictional Dan’s and Emily’s romance if this novel had mentioned whether Dan was Sara’s father, and what happened to Sara’s father if he wasn’t Dan. A Gathering Place is Book 3, so maybe this was all explained in Books 1 and 2, but I've not read those.

Last Sunday this web site reviewed Reverend Randollph and the Holy Terror, in which a man who’s run away from penitence for his sins becomes a serial murderer who warns each of his victims with a reference to their past sins. That novel is fiction, just as A Gathering Place is fiction. I don’t believe either the “dark” extreme, where the unacknowledged sin impels the man all the way to murder, or the “light” extreme, where the unacknowledged sin can be simply swept out the back doors of everyone’s lives, is really typical of life—very often, or very long, anyway. 

I think there are obvious psychological dangers in trying to believe that either of these fictional extremes is a true description of the way our lives and minds normally work. The Positive Thinkers I know, in real life, all seem to be quite obviously “dwelling in a darksome land of wild wolf-cliffs and windy headlands,” failing to convince either themselves or me that all they’ve ever known are sweetness and light.

Some people like Dan and Emily may feel love for God and for each other, and some things may work together for their good. More often, they’re deluding themselves. If Dan’s first wife is married to another man now, and Sara’s father is Dan or is dead or is married to another woman now, my understanding of the Bible is that Dan and Emily have a right to marry each other…but they ought at least to know that their relationship is going to be drastically complicated by whatever character defects caused them to be a single mother and a divorced man.

Well, it’s gentle fiction, about quiet, law-abiding people. One feels that, if their midlife romance doesn’t last, Dan and Emily will quietly separate rather than so much as yell at each other. Even if you’ve had some experience of what “broken families” and “blended families” are really like, it is just…barely…possible to read A Gathering Place as a nice, mellow, bland story with happy endings all round.

Katherine Spencer is alive and writing (and continuing this series) so A Gathering Place is a Fair Trade Book. If you buy it here, for $5 per book + $5 per package + $1 per online payment, we'll send $1 per book to Spencer or a charity of her choice. Books 1 through 4 have been out long enough to be widely available secondhand; you could fit them into one package for a total of $25 (or $26). If you want the complete set, the official position of this web site is that you should buy the newer ones as new books in order to encourage a living writer, though of course we can sell all but the very newest as Fair Trade Books. Please try, if possible, to give Spencer reasons for real rejoicing, as distinct from mere Positive Thinking.