In THE RECITAL, the sequel to THE DUET, Robert Elmer pens a sweet story about the challenges of putting away the past, the transforming nature of love, and the power of faith. THE RECITAL picks up the story of the widowed dairy farmer Gerrit Appeldoorn and his city-slicker romantic interest, piano teacher and music professor Joan Horton. Now 60 years old, Gerrit has retired from his dairy farming days in Van Dalen, Washington, and he’s busy selling tractors and pondering his love for Joan. But there’s the little matter of religion: Gerrit’s stubborn Calvinism runs deep to his bones, and Joan’s own Nazarene brand of Christianity is a lot more emotional. For Gerrit, everything is predestined by God.
But is the prestigious job offer Joan has in Chicago, 2,163 miles from the farm, part of God’s will for Gerrit’s life? He isn’t sure. All he knows is that he wants to marry the dark, beautiful Italian widow who has come into his life (a love affair sparked over piano lessons in THE DUET). But will a “mixed marriage” between a Calvinist and a non-reformed Christian work? And how can Gerrit leave a town he’s loved and known all his life? But “You’re my home now, Joan,” he tells her, and with this sweet statement, their immediate future is decided.
Elmer does a nice job portraying Gerrit’s adjustment to big city living, avoiding clichés and sidestepping quick adjustments. The man who loves the constellations and the birds finds little of either on Lakeshore Drive in Chicago. For Joan, however, going from little girls playing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” at homespun recitals in the small town of Van Dalen to teaching advanced students at the Gaylord Conservatory of Music is a dream come true. But she hasn’t counted on the devoted attentions of Dr. Porter Chambliss, recently divorced and uninterested in her newly-married status. Does her dream job come with a price?
In a poignant moment, Gerrit wakes up in the middle of the night in Chicago and reflects: “The Lord only knew how much he missed the quiet nights in Van Dalen, when he still lived on the farm and the loudest sounds were the wind rustling the row of maple trees out on the front drive or the low moos of the cows in line for their first milking.
“Maybe you’d hear one of Marty Middelkoop’s raspberry pickers in July or a tractor off in the distance during August haying. And goose music in September, or the soft patter of October rain on the roof. Even Mallory’s sweet giggling out in the yard when she and Missy played fetch with a Frisbee. He remembered how the farm spoke to him with every slam of the back-porch screen door….Now he imagined that Joan’s soft up-and-down breathing was his winter rain and rustling wind and sweet giggling.”
One of the most enjoyable things about Elmer’s two protagonists is that they are older than usual for Christian fiction, and they lead interesting, active lives. It’s absorbing reading, discovering how two people can reconcile very different pasts and let their love for each other help them create a new future together. And heck --- as Elmer shows --- just because you’re over 60 doesn’t mean you’re not interested in sex anymore! Very refreshing.
The flaws are tiny (he writes Lake Shore Drive instead of Lakeshore Drive), but a totally unexpected turn of events will leave readers in disbelief. Unlike so many Christian fiction novels, you won’t be able to say this one has a predictable ending. It’s a measure of how much Elmer makes us care about the characters that the final pages are so shocking.
An added bonus is the often humorous epigrams that kick off each chapter. I knew I was going to like the book when it began with a Dave Barry quote: “What Women Want: To be loved, to be listened to, to be desired, to be respected, to be needed, to be trusted, and sometimes, just to be held. What Men Want: Tickets for the World Series.”
Elmer is a competent author (THE CELEBRITY and six Christian children’s series), and this is another example of his ability to craft an enjoyable story. THE RECITAL is a wonderful addition to any Christian fiction bookshelf.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on June 20, 2006