It is always sad when a favorite author dies, particularly if his or her novels featured series characters whom you had grown to love. Jon Hassler, who died in 2008, has been on my reading list since I came across his first novel Staggerford back in the 1980s. Hassler set most of his novels in small communities in Minnesota, and like many writers who look at small town life he created an appealing and varied cast of characters.
His last novel, The New Woman, brings back to the center stage Staggerford’s school mistress (now long retired) and conscience, Miss Agatha McGee. Hassler eloquently captures the feelings of a woman who senses that her role in the community has diminished as she has aged and the community has expanded. The story deftly mixes humor and sadness as Miss McGee contemplates moving out of her home into a retirement community and faces the deaths of two close friends.
Hassler is known as a Catholic author, and this is most apparent in the sense of grace that pervades his stories. While people make bad choices and cause pain in others, the possibility of redemption is always there in Hassler’s work. Despite their difficulties, his characters take joy in their lives and in the world around them. Hassler does not write “cozy” stories. He looks squarely at the hard choices and turns of fate that can drag people down. But the prospect for making better choices is always there, even when things are at their darkest. These are stories that you can go back to time and again, finding both new insights and old friends in Hassler’s thoughtful writing.
Check the WRL catalog for The New Woman