"On Turpentine Lane" is the first Elinor Lipman book I've read. I found it to be a wonderful comedy of manners with a dash of romance and, to my mind, a feel vaguely reminiscent of Jane Austen, whose books I adore.
Of course there are no murders in Austen's books, but Lipman has two. They happened decades in the past, but figuring out "who done it" is an important tangential plot point.
Thirty-two-year-old Faith Rachel Frankel is the protagonist here. She's moved back to her suburban hometown to work in the stewardship office of her private high school alma mater. She's engaged to Stuart, who had, prior to an emergency appendectomy, been an employed, reliable, stand-up sort of guy.
However, after the emergency appendectomy, a near death experience in Stuart's mind, he decides to find himself by walking cross-country, relying on the good graces of strangers to house and feed him ... and a credit card for which Faith, and his three sets of parents, pays the bill. He doesn't seem to have much time to keep in touch with her, but finds plenty of time to post photos with lots of different women on social media.
Faith's mother is a loving but meddling presence in her life. Her father has taken to painting copies of famous works of art. Her brother, Joel, runs a towing and plowing company. Rounding out her circle is her officemate Nick Franconi, supportive, funny and living with his girlfriend, Brooke.
Although disorienting at first because the story jumped around in what seemed like abrupt ways from chapter to chapter, there's a rhythm in the book and once I got used to it, I actually enjoyed this aspect of it.
Lipman is skilled at slowly revealing all the hidden connections between seemingly random situations and people, which was a true delight. Every secondary character was interesting and played an important part in Faith's story. It was satisfying to see all of the storylines, even for those secondary characters, wrapped up at the end of the book.
I loved the wry humor and the way the setting seemed almost timeless despite modern things like social media and smartphones. "On Turpentine Lane" would be a great read on a cool autumn day, or next to a crackling fire in winter.
Lisa Sanning is the adult services librarian at Missouri River Regional Library.