Wednesday, January 21, 2009

It Ain't No Mayberry: A Review of O Little Town

Among the enjoyable Christmas read this year (for both Claire and I) was Don Reid’s wise and winsome little novel, O Little Town. Though set in a small southern town in the late 50’s and therefore full of details of fond interest to readers of my generation who can match them to their own experiences of that time, O Little Town is more than up-to-date in its themes.

Mt. Jefferson, for instance, isn’t Mayberry.

No, the problems emerging from this fictional town are much more than Opie playing hooky or Barney lecturing Otis on the evils of drink. Try unplanned pregnancies. Broken marriages. The pastor’s daughter caught shoplifting. And a mysterious secret finally revealed by a dying man. O Little Town is a more realistic examination of the era as the author takes very seriously the nature of man’s foibles, failures and false pride.

But can a novel that honestly deals with such matters make for cheerful reading? Doesn’t one expect a Christmas novel to be full of delight and charm and happy endings?

Or could it be that first-time novelist Don Reid manages to accomplish all of these things?

Yes, he does.

Indeed, because of his honesty in writing about sin, Reid is able to write profoundly and persuasively about redemption. For Mt. Jefferson doesn’t contain only vice, it includes virtue too – beautiful and necessary virtues like love, humble confession, forgiveness, healing and dramatic change for the good. Because it does and because Reid is a warm-hearted and talented writer, O Little Town succeeds quite well indeed as a Christmas book. We both recommend it highly.

I’ll end this brief review, however, with the item that actually serves as the lead to most others; namely, the author's most interesting other career. Because if you don’t know (and you probably wouldn’t unless you’re an old-school country music fan), Don Reid was part of one of the genre's most successful groups of all time, The Statler Brothers.

So, writing great songs is not an unusual activity for Reid. Not too big of a surprise there. And his experience has included co-writing the scripts for The Statler Brothers’ television show and penning three non-fiction books. But a novel is a different game altogether.

Thankfully, Reid took the risk and in so doing gave us a well-crafted novel, one with humor as well as pathos, honor as well as moral failure, and inspiring lessons of life richly portrayed.