I don't really like to write up the books I've read, but I do because somewhere in the back of my mind I feel like it's a good exercise. However when I read them I never think about what I'm going to write about them. I read them as if I'm never going to think about them again once I'm done. Usually that's not the case. Usually I write something about them, then never think of them again.
Each one of these books deserve their own write up, but it's not going to happen this time. So, I'll mix them all together somehow.
Eventide by Kent Haruf, Lake Wobegon Days by Garrison Keillor, & Home to Holly Springs by Jan Karon all have settings in small towns & the areas just outside of them, though the locations, culture & traditions of these small towns were quite different. Eventide is set in the Colorado plains, Lake Wobegon Days in Minnesota, & Holly Springs in northern Mississippi.
Holly Springs is the only one of them that is actually a real location. Lake Wobegon Days has some very funny parts, but it's much more than a humor book. If you pick up that book expecting a laugh on every page, you'll be disappointed. Also, it's humor is quite sophisticated. Eventide was probably the most "realistic" of the three. They are very different books, all worth a read.
The small towns (and I do mean small) are the common thread for all three books. They all capture an undercurrent of humanity that you will not see if you just notice the surface of things. Anybody who has lived in a small town any length of time knows that there is more going on than meets the eye.
Eventide is very good at capturing both the good and the horrors of a small town rural-ish area. There are people in this town who work hard and are fairly well off though not immune to the tragedies of life. This books gives you a pretty good description of modern life on a ranch, raising and selling cattle. And the horrors (my word) are because what the author describes is completely plausible & realistic. Elderly people just hanging on, people who are just down right mean, alcoholics, abused children & social workers who have to deal with this, the upheaval that can be brought on by what is probably a very treatable & essentially minor mental illness, people who, if they were ever tested, might be considered retarded and are fairly incapable of dealing with the problems of life. There is an undercurrent of dysfunction in which people still manage to function, at least at a certain level. I dont want to scare anyone off this book - it's pretty good. Much better than anything I'll ever write.
Lake Wobegon days creates a fictional town with fictional people from the days of it's founding as "New Albion" by Congregationalists from New England, to the arrival of Germans (who were Catholic) & finally the Norwegians, (who were Lutherans). The history of the town, and the railroad that came to it accidentally is very detailed, so be prepared for that. It was the Norwegians who became the majority and changed the town's name to Lake Wobegon, because they liked the sound of it. The author creates all kinds of characters in all kinds of situations, and it's interesting in a town dominated by the Lutheran church & the Catholic church (Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility), the narrator grows up as a member of the "Bretherns", a much more fundamentalist protestant sect, and a much smaller group, than the Lutherans. My favortie part of the book is a chapter long footnote entitled "95 theses 95" which a recent emigre from Lake Wobegon, back for a visit, was going to nail 95 theses to the door of the Lutheran church. He didn't because he could hear the Luther Leaguers inside and he was afraid someone would see him, and he was also afraid the nail might ruin a really good piece of wood. So he slipped it under the door of the local newspaper office, where years later it remains on the editor's desk, even though it was never printed. The editor is waiting for a slow news week, apparently. The 95 theses were a "dramatic complaint about his upbrining", and details the engraining of a very inhibiting value system. There is a lot of humor in the book, and it is used very well to capture that dysfunctional undercurrent of humanity that exists in every small town quite nicely. I don't know if that is what the author was trying to do or not.
Home to Holly Springs is Jan Karon's first book in her "Father Tim" series. Father Tim is an episcopalian priest and was the main character of her "Mitford" series of books, set in a small town in the mountains of North Carolina. People believe it's loosely based on the mountain resort town of Blowing Rock, but I don't know. However in this book Father Tim is returning to Holly Springs, Mississippi his boyhood home, & pretty much confronting his past. Father Tim came from a fairly well-to-do family, and grew up in a large home outside of town, living in what was almost a World War II era version of plantation society. The undercurrents that seem to be a common thread of these books come largely through Father Tim's flashbacks to his childhood. The innocence of childhood and of small town life is illusory much of the time. (Always has been) Things happen which the child is only semi-aware and which are never completely explained. Life is both good and safe, dangerous and tenuous. There are brutal people in the world. Even when Father Tim is in the present, the undercurrent is there. Most people he meets are nice enough, but some are living in difficult situations, some are gravely ill.
I've not done any of these books justice. They're all worth reading.