When Henry Phillips's father suddenly dies on New Year's Eve, Henry decides not to return to
the spring semester of college, saying he feels his father would want him to stay home and help his mother. Those words are a facade for Henry's deep restlessness and despair. Over the next few months, he never tries to find a true job, but spends his evenings helping an acquaintance run moonshine and playing fiddle in a few bars. There is a quiet charade going on all around -- Henry's mother and his grandmother know he is up to no good but they silently pray that he will stop on his own accord; meanwhile, Henry feels guilty for his choices, but can't stop himself.
Henry does try to help his grandmother with some chores on her little farm and it is when he is there that he keeps running into Margaret, the young woman who does housekeeping for Henry's grandmother. He and Margaret seem to be oil and water, but as Henry's uneasiness over his recent choices grows, he begins to realize what a steadfast friend Margaret is. He also begins to realize, as do many others in the community, that Margaret's young sister Mayfair is someone with special gifts.
I believe this novel is the follow up to MIRACLE IN A DRY SEASON, but UNTIL THE HARVEST can be read as a stand alone. The book has many outstanding elements that make the story successsful. There is a minor love story of a couple in their nineties (they may have had a major role in the previous novel), but anyway, how often do the elderly have a major role in thoughts of love and romance? The mystique surrounding Mayfair and her apparent ability to heal others while her own health suffers is a compelling paradox. I also liked Henry's mother and grandmother -- down home types with commonsense and plenty of Christian love.
Despite all these great characters and their dilemmas, I found the book slightly lacking. I know the novel, set in the early 1970's, is supposed to have that mystical aura and a Southern mountain flavor of a simpler time. Knowing all that, my realistic streak still could not accept that Henry's grandma's farm with only one cow and a few chickens was enough to provide employment for Margaret and a compelling future for Henry. I kept thinking of the oversimplistic television movies with rural settings. Having grown up on a small Wisconsin dairy farm in the 1960s and early 70s, I know better. It also seemed that Henry's mother did not have a job, yet after her husband died she was not concerned about money and Henry was not pressured to find a job. Not very believable and I could not overlook what I thought were slight flaws in the overall story. (I won't even get into the fact that the early 70's was the height of the draft and any young man who quit college would have been prime draft material!)
Sarah Loudin Thomas is a talented writer and I know that UNTIL THE HARVEST will have a successful following. I received an ecopy of this title from Netgalley for my honest review.