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Jane Hamilton's The Excellent Lombards

HamiltonThe Excellent Lombards, by Jane Hamilton, is a poignant coming of age novel that accurately captures the angst of childhood and adolescence growing up on a 21st century family farm. The novel is told in first person narrative through the eyes of Mary Frances (Frankie) from around age 6 to 16.

The first chapter opens with a scene of haymaking just before a storm touches down on the field. Frankie’s father ignores the angry clouds and ominous signs and works like a man of 20, despite his 50+ years. He is akin to a mythological hero defeating the forces of nature. Later that day at dinner, Frankie remarks on her older brother’s skepticism during the adrenaline-filled adventure:

“You know you believe it,” I beamed to him across the platter of corn. “You know you believe the one pure thing!” …But that night of the hay baling he was reminded of the truth. He knew what we’d always known, that our father could outwit a storm. It was so. It had happened. He knew there was no point, not in anything, if our father wasn’t on hand, quieting the wind; and no point either, if we weren’t there to see it.

Set in Wisconsin, where the author lives on an apple orchard, The Excellent Lombards is a moving depiction of an extended family living on hundreds of acres of land owned by that family for four generations. But bad feelings between the brothers (Frankie’s father and uncle), as well as financial burdens and suburbanization, threaten to put an end to her hopes of inheriting the land.

The story weaves back and forth in time as seamlessly as a dream sequence. Hamilton’s beautiful language, combined with her rich characters, make it a must-read for the summer. This is literary fiction at its best.


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