"I publish the banns of marriage between Cynthia Clary Coppersmith of the parish of the Chapel of our Lord and Savior and Father Timothy Andrew Kavanagh, rector of this parish. If any of you know just cause why they may not be joined together in Holy Matrimony, you are bidden to declare it…"
It is the biggest event to take place in Mitford in years…perhaps ever. In A COMMON LIFE, the sixth book in the best-selling Mitford Years series, Jan Karon takes readers back in time to the wedding of Father Timothy Kavanagh and Cynthia Coppersmith. For Mitford fans, A COMMON LIFE is a long time in coming. When the third book, THESE HIGH, GREEN HILLS, opens, Father Tim and Cynthia are married already, and it is left to the reader to imagine the wedding. Until now.
A lifelong bachelor, 62-year-old Father Tim wrestles with his heart and searches his soul before finally getting down on bended knee to propose marriage to Cynthia, his next door neighbor. There is no keeping a secret in a small town, and delightful chaos follows once the news of the impending nuptials gets around. Soon, all of Mitford is talking about the wedding, and Father Tim feels as if he is caught in the eye of a hurricane. "The tidal wave, the firestorm, the volcanic spew --- all the things he's dreaded had come at last, and all at once…. Well-wishers bellowed their felicitations across the street, rang his phone off the hook at home and office, and generally made a commotion over the fact that he had feelings like the rest of the common horde." As anyone who has ever planned a wedding knows, things have a way of going unexpectedly awry, and Father Tim and Cynthia's wedding is no exception.
By turns hilarious and poignant, A COMMON LIFE is less about the wedding itself and more about the reactions, emotions, and behaviors of the Mitford residents. How does Dooley feel about sharing Father Tim's attention? Will Cynthia ask Esther Bolick to make her famous orange marmalade cake? Is Father Tim ready to give up bachelorhood --- and is his parish ready to let him? Will Miss Sadie and Louella find the perfect outfits to wear? As preparations for the wedding get underway, it inspires many in Mitford to reflect on their own lives, loves, and losses.
Karon never gets overly sentimental, tempering potentially saccharine situations with humor. One example where Karon's wit shines through is a scene in which Father Tim is trying in vain to write a poem for his intended, searching through books of poetry for inspiration and finally declaring that "the good stuff has already been written." And even though he is "a muddle of happiness and confusion, as if his brain had been stirred like so much porridge," Father Tim has the ability to be honest with himself: "His heart had pulled away when he felt happiness with her; each time the joy came, he had retreated, filled with the fear of losing himself." This is what makes Karon's characters so wonderful --- they aren't perfect. They have doubts, anxieties, and fears, and they even succumb to the occasional stab of jealousy.
Father Tim and Cynthia's wedding is a coup for Mitford --- and for Mitford fans --- and it deserves to be chronicled in its own book. At only 186 pages, though, it's a bit slim, and it feels as if some of the details have been left out. About two-thirds of the way through the story the narrative jumps forward several months to the day before the wedding, making the transition between these chapters too abrupt. But this is an age-old complaint from readers of serial novels: I want more of my favorite characters!
You wouldn't go to a stranger's wedding, so if you have yet to visit "the little town with the big heart," A COMMON LIFE should not be your first foray into Mitford. Start with the initial book in the series, AT HOME IN MITFORD, and then read one or two of the subsequent books. Jan Karon has said that she wrote the Mitford novels to "give readers an extended family." First get to know the characters, and you'll savor A COMMON LIFE all the more.
Reviewed by Shannon McKenna on April 8, 2001
A Common Life: The Wedding Story