DEAR JAMES by Jon Hassler


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 Hassler's seventh (North of Hope, 1990, etc.) again delivers the goods: this time, Agatha McGee (who first appeared in A Green Journey, 1985) travels to Italy to visit her old friend and pen-pal James, a Catholic priest. Sandwiched between the parts of this European journey is the usual assortment of gently comic portraits of the denizens of Hassler's mythical town of Staggerford, Minnesota. Miss Agatha McGee finds herself at loose ends when St. Isidore's Elementary School closes and she's faced with a sort of late-life crisis. In the novel's first section, we meet Lillian Kite, Agatha's neighbor who will go to Italy with her, along with Sylvester Juba, a wealthy retiree who proposes marriage to Agatha; French Lopat, a shell-shocked Vietnam vet who stays at Agatha's house while she's away; and Lillian's daughter Imogene, who's envious of Agatha and finds a way to compromise the latter's sterling reputation. The story then moves on to Italy, where James is recovering from intestinal cancer. Hassler has a good deal of fun, † la Innocents Abroad, satirizing the tourist trade (Agatha has no reverence for antiquities); Agatha also finds a ``present contentment'' with James. Later, back home in Staggerford, she must undo the damage that Imogene has done her, though she also decides to go to Ireland, where James is on a lecture tour. By the close, Agatha will attain, as James does, a late-life poise and sense of forgiveness that she's able to irradiate the town with. Old-fashioned storytelling at its best. Hassler satirizes both Minnesotan and European types, but his affection for his people is evident in the great good humor that's pervasive.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-345-37707-9
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Ballantine
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1993


by Jon Hassler
NonfictionMY STAGGERFORD JOURNAL by Jon Hassler
by Jon Hassler