This is Book 4 in the Welcome to Partonville series, which started early in 2004 with DEAREST DOROTHY, ARE WE THERE YET?
I'm new to this series. I jumped in at this late juncture, yet I was quickly hooked. Though the book would be more intriguing to readers who have previously come to know the characters of the fictitious town of Partonville, Illinois, WHO WOULD HAVE EVER THOUGHT?! stands on its own as engaging, low-action entertainment and inspiration.
Judging by the books' titles (including DEAREST DOROTHY, HELP! I'VE LOST MYSELF!) Dorothy Westra --- who turns 88 at the end of this installment --- is meant to be the series's leading lady. But in this particular book, Charlene Ann Baumbich gives a large cast of characters nearly equal billing. Eight key women, spanning three generations, are members of the Happy Hookers, a group originally formed to meet once a month to hook rugs but now to play bunco, "a raucous, mindless dice game that offered a great opportunity for gab, prizes and dessert."
The book recounts the Partonville goings on for most of a month, after the October Pumpkin Festival, leading up to three events: the November Hookers meeting, a first-ever Thanksgiving Day community dinner --- organized by the Social Concerns Committee of the United Methodist Church in conjunction with St. Augustine's Catholic Church --- and Dorothy's birthday celebration.
Though the November Hookers hostess, Jessie Landers, isn't a churchgoer, many of the others are Methodists who comfortably break forth into silent or audible prayer, for the sick among them, including young Jessica whose severe nausea portends an unplanned pregnancy, and the much older May Belle, who is in bed with a bad back.
Baumbich deftly threads several story lines together. For fellow Hooker, middle-aged grocery-store employee Nellie Ruth McGregor, romance blossoms with a local handyman. The Landers welcome houseguests who stay several weeks. That Thanksgiving dinner gradually gets organized, with or without the help of Acting Mayor Gladys McKern. The new-to-town city slicker and commercial real-estate developer --- Katie Durbin --- mellows and grows to appreciate the small-town (with a population fewer than 1,500): its people, its values, its property.
The narrator's voice is important to this book: a touch of humor; a gentle revealer of heart-secrets (Nellie Ruth has never been kissed); a friendly, unidentified overseer, rallying in support of small towns everywhere that are in danger of being lost to encroaching suburban sprawl.
Like Miss Read, Barbara Pym and Jan Karon, Charlene Ann Baumbich transports you to a place that lingers in your mind, nudging your desire to return.
Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on August 30, 2005
Dearest Dorothy, Who Would Have Ever Thought?!: Welcome to Partonville, Book 4