Madeline Stone goes back to her roots in rural Michigan and finds the missing bits of herself, in a heartwarming if drawn-out debut.
Matching pace to place, there’s little urgency either in Airgood’s novel or in McAllaster, the small town on the shore of Lake Superior for which 35-year-old Madeline impulsively, implausibly gives up life, work and a fiancé in Chicago. The reason given is to take care of sweet, elderly Arbutus and her cranky sister Gladys, who had been the “good friend” of Joe, Madeline’s grandfather. When Madeline’s druggie young mother abandoned her illegitimate baby, Joe could have taken the child in, but he refused, and Madeline was brought up by a kind stranger whose long, recently concluded battle with cancer has equipped her for taking care of the elderly. Finding friends, a little family and the attractive owner of the pizza parlor in McAllaster, Madeline also develops an ambition to take over Gladys’ and Arbutus’ decayed but lovely old hotel. Airgood uses scattered events (a court case, a fire, a traffic accident) to point out community values, the long play of rural history and therapeutic, neighborly good deeds. More sensitive, less sugary than similar books in the genre, this combination of romance and self-discovery ends, unsurprisingly, in a tidy, happy place.
Pleasant and comforting, like Gladys’ cardamom rolls.