Minnesota’s Jon Hassler, who died this past month, is noted for his thoughtful, well-drawn characters, his realistic settings, and his clear prose style. Hassler writes of people living ordinary lives who in some moment are caught up in events that change them in a variety of ways that they never expected. There is a sense of hope in all of Hassler’s work, even at its bleakest moments. No person is so bad that they are beyond redemption. A good starting point is Staggerford, which looks at the lives of the residents of a small Minnesota town through the eyes of a local high school teacher.
Miles Pruitt was born and raised in the town of Staggerford, and he now teaches English in the high school there. The book details Pruitt’s life and the lives of the other towns people over the course of a single week. But it is a week that will see dramatic changes in many lives. Hassler was to come back to Staggerford and to some of the characters introduced in the book over the course of several of his other stories, in particular the retired school teacher Agatha McGee. In all of his novels Hassler displays a gift for creating characters that remain with you, and he writes about them with great affection. He also captures the sense of life in a small town, the feel of community, the challenge of being different, and the rhythms of day to day life.