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Fans of Gail Godwin have cause for celebration with the publication of her new novel, Evensong, the sequel to her bestseller, Father Melancholy's Daughter (1990).
When readers left Margaret Gower, she had applied to seminary and was planning a career in the clergy, like her beloved father.
In Godwin's sequel, Margaret has realized her dream and is serving as rector of All Saints High Balsam Episcopal Church located in the Highlands area of western North Carolina. Her husband and fellow priest Adrian Bonner is the acting headmaster at a private school for disaffected teenagers.
Evensong chronicles the events of Advent, 1999 - "that season of spiritual expectation in the Church calendar" beginning on the last Sunday in November and lasting until Christmas. At the close of the millennium, High Balsam, a town that claims to be "four thousand feet above the cares of the world," has more than its share of problems. Residents are worried about a recent shooting which has heightened tensions between the year-round "locals" and the wealthy "people of property" who spend their summers in the mountain resort town.
Unemployment has further heightened the "extremes of have and have-not," and the young pastor finds her formerly peaceful parish in turmoil. Add to this upheaval the arrival of three newcomers to High Balsam, and Pastor Margaret's life becomes more complicated than she can handle.
In Evensong, Gail Godwin chronicles the collision course of conflicting economic, social, and spiritual interests which confront High Balsam (and America) at the dawn of the third millennium. She writes with characteristic compassion and insight about the complexities of family ("an inextricable knot of messes and blessings") and the mysteries of faith (how "redemptive people can come to us in the unlikeliest of shapes"). And, she brings to maturity one of her most enduring characters: Margaret Gower Bonner, a woman who, like her father, "lived by the grace of daily obligation."
Linda Shull writes a column for The Leader in Charlotte, North Carolina.