Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Year in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania -- Novels by Calvin Miller

Seasons of Pennsylvania Series – Calvin Miller

© 1998, Wind © 2000, Shade © 2001, Frost © 2002 Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis

I have to apologize for reviewing a collection of books, but these should be read together, if you can find them all. Calvin Miller—preacher, author, artist, poet (not necessarily in that order)—is a master storyteller. And he proves it once again with this four book collection that brings the reader to the small community of King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, in the era of the Great Depression.

Each installment of the collection focuses on one season, and the interaction of several of the notable families in this rural town. As expected, Snow is set in winter—specifically around the Christmas season—and we become acquainted with the Muellers (the “coal people”) and Mary Withers, a young widow with a sickly daughter. As the dram unfolds, the little girl, Alexis, almost dies on the night that Otto Mueller is discovered to return home to his estranged family, even as his younger brother Erick falls in love with that “Vithers voman” as father Hans calls Mary. Christmas miracles ensue.

In Wind, Miller turns our focus to the McCaslin family (the “cow people”). Peter—the male heir to the McCaslin Dairy—finds himself at odds with his sister Isabel (called “Dizzy Izzy” by everyone because of her proclivity to quote scripture and hang on to the long gone love of an unscrupulous Bible salesman named Benny Baxter) when she insists that the dairy is responsible for giving a job to the down-on-his-luck Ernest Pitovsky and give him, his wife, and their two children a warm place to live. Otto Mueller appears once again, this time to rescue Isabel from her lovesick madness.

As summer creeps up on our little town, Shade chronicles the lives of the families involved as Benny Baxter returns to turn Isabel back into Dizzy Izzy. Also returning to town is Mabel Cartwright’s wayward daughter Christine who discovers a dark secret in the memory boxes of her mother—whose personal memory is failing. Otto sees his love for Isabel slipping away even as his father Hans succumbs to cancer. How will the Muellers survive crisis after crisis?

In a final note, Miller returns us again to King of Prussia in Frost. As the title suggests, this part of the story takes place in Autumn as the town anticipates the first frost of the year. Christine Cartwright discovers she is carrying Benjamin Baxter’s baby—though she has discovered just what a heel Benny is. Helena Pitovsky continues to battle tuberculosis. Mary Withers disappears with her dead husband’s identical twin brother only to find out that they are only identical in physical appearance. Ingrid Mueller must work the wonders only a mother can work to ensure that her sons will be happy and find the love that they both deserve.

You must read the books yourself to get a feel for Pennsylvania in the 1930s. The continued reference to the local Lutheran Church brings a homey touch to this collection of books (which you can order as a set from the author’s website while supplies last).

As a whole I give the books four out of five reading glasses because they are good, readable tellings of a pleasant story about a not-so-pleasant time. I did find that the first of the books touched my fancy most, though. Miller suggests that the last installment is the best because of the resolution found there. In any case, you will enjoy them. I know that my girls enjoyed them when I read them to them at bedtime.

—Benjamin Potter, May 3, 2011

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