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A Covington Christmas
Mass Market Paperback, 269 pages
Pocket Star Books
November 5, 2005
Christmas Fiction, Christian Fiction
Booklist refers to the novels of Joan Medlicott as 'gentle novels'. This is the first one I've read by this author, but the classification certainly fits. A Covington Christmas is the type of sweetly evocative novel one would want to read on a cozy winter's night. For a while at least, I was transported out of the hot, humid South Florida weather, and to the delights of a part of the country where you can actually see the seasons change. Medlicott certainly sets the scene well for this one, and I forgot all about palm trees and ocean surf, reveling in the North Carolina rolling hills and pine trees, instead.
The plot is certainly unique -- five couples find out, sometime in October of a particular year, that they've never been legally married! It seems that the minister who performed the ceremonies, about forty years before, had not been ordained, and was serving the church under false pretenses. Once this somewhat comical situation is discovered, the five couples involved decide to get married all over again...
New assistant pastor Denny Ledbetter is cleaning out the church attic, with the help of Grace Singleton, a resident of Covington, when he finds an old letter containing the shocking news. Along with this letter, he finds the marriage certificates for the five couples, unsigned. They had obviously never been presented at the courthouse.
The plot concerns itself mainly with the problem of having five weddings in one day -- Christmas Eve, no less! Initially, only two of the couples chose to get married on that day, but then the other three agree to do the same. This presents another problem: the church needs a lot of repairs, the furnace is ancient, the walls have to be repainted, the stained-glass windows cleaned...
Although the plot line is predictable to some extent, I still found this to be a very pleasant read. Instead of dramatic turning points, Medlicott gives the reader a series of memorable characters, and it's their interactions that make the novel interesting. It's as if the reader has been set down right in the middle of Covington, and becomes part of the daily lives of these people. Thus, this is entirely a character-driven novel.
Most memorable of all are Pastor Denny Ledbetter and his mentor, the aging Pastor Johnson. Ledbetter lived in an orphanage as a child, and was taken under Johnson's wing around the age of seven. From then on, Johnson became like a father to him. It's very touching to see how Ledbetter cares for his elderly mentor. In fact, he has left a wonderful congregation in South Carolina to come up to Covington to assist the older man. He has also left behind a broken heart, which I think Medlicott intends to do something about in a future novel.
Memorable as well are Grace Singleton and her friends, Amelia Declose and Hannah Parrish. Throughout the novel, they each contribute to the planning of the five weddings, with Grace being the leader in setting up meetings with the couples, and generally overseeing things. I especially liked Amelia, though. She's a photographer whose creative talents also manifest in other areas.
Then there are the five couples who find out, to their great dismay, that they're not really married. Each of them deals with this unexpected news in his/her own way. Most poignant of all is May McCorkle's reaction. In contrast to her twin sister, June, she realized, early on, that she should never have married Billy. She had done so because he had gotten her pregnant. Their marriage has been an unhappy one, and so she's not at all pleased at the prospect of having to marry him all over again. In contrast, Velma and Charlie Herrill are very much in love, as are Frank and Alma Craine, although Alma has had to tolerate Frank's incorrigible flirtatiousness toward other women for many years.
Readers preferring more action, more conflict, will probably not like this novel. I would have preferred a bit more conflict myself, especially when it became apparent that the church furnace would definitely have to be replaced, and Pastor Ledbetter had to make a last-minute trip into Tennessee for a new one, just as a snowstorm was approaching. Having a villain or two in the story would also have added some interesting conflict.
In spite of these objections, I still think that A Covington Christmas is a great holiday story. Yes, it's 'gentle'. At the same time, however, it's also full of wonderful characterizations, as well as a beautiful setting, and a very real sense of belonging, of joyful togetherness, that's just perfect for the beautiful season of Christmas!