Jamie Langston Turner is an author I put on my TBR list back in December of last year. I loved A Garden to Keep (read my review here); in fact, it made my Best Books of 2008 list. Ironically, The Suncatchers is not on my official TBR list, but I happened upon it at a local used bookstore, so I brought it home back in January. Life has been so very hectic around here lately that when I finished my last book, I decided that I wanted a “comfort read.” I was banking on this book being similar to A Garden to Keep in terms of style and subject matter, and I was not disappointed one bit.
Both A Garden to Keep and The Suncatchers are set in and around Derby, South Carolina, and they involve the same small church. Additionally, both books involve marriages that are failing. However, The Suncatchers is told from the point of view of a man, Perry Warren, who has just moved to Derby in order to separate from this wife. It just so happens that Perry is a sociologist who writes books about sociological issues (How’s that for vague?). His latest book is to be about fundamentalist Christianity, and conveniently, when he moves into his sister’s vacant home, he “falls into a nest of ’em,” as we like to say here in the South. His next-door neighbors are Eldeen Rafferty and her daughter and grandson, Jewel and Joe Leonard Blanchard. Perry gets to know his neighbors and attends church with them in order to write his book. However, what he doesn’t anticipate is becoming so emotionally attached to them and their “church family.” More than that, though, he sees with his own eyes the sincerity of faith that these people possess and the fruit of that faith in their lives.
This doesn’t sound like a very exciting book, does it? Well, it really isn’t exciting, but by now I know that one doesn’t read Jamie Langston Turner for excitement. One reads Jamie Langston Turner for character development, scores of literary allusions, and even humor. I have to say that Turner’s development of Eldeen Rafferty is perfect–so perfect that I think I’ve met her before. : ) Perry himself is another case entirely. He is extremely introverted and, while he is a great observer-of-and-writer-about-sociological-phenomenon, he is really terrible at relating to people. Turner paints such a vivid portrait of Perry’s inner life that I feel like I know him, despite the fact that if I had met him in real life I would’ve never had the chance to get to know him. Does that make sense? The bottom line is Turner’s strength as a writer is characterization.
I have to comment, too, on the titles for Turner’s novels (at least the ones I’ve read so far). Both of these titles are symbols of what happens in the respective novels, and both titles have a literal, physical reality in the novels. I read in the author biography on the back of The Suncatchers that Turner has taught for over twenty years, and I think that surely she must teach English. No one else could make such pointed symbolic statements! ; )
I’ve rambled on long enough about Jamie Langston Turner. I really enjoy her books, and if you like thoughtful stories with highly developed characters, I think you will, too.