The Story People
THE STORY PEOPLE. By Heather Kaufman. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2016. 352 pages. $12.99.
In her debut novel, The Story People, Heather Kaufman introduces the reader to an idyllic book store named Palermo’s in the charming fictional town of New Holden, Indiana. New Holden is replete with community parks, a grocery store, a dynamic Lutheran congregation, various restaurants, and colorful citizenry.
The novel primarily follows Ben Palermo and Rosemary Berg. Ben is the young bachelor and unexpected owner of Palermo’s. Ben inherited the store when his uncle, the previous proprietor, passed away. Rosemary is a young—and also single—illustrator and author of children’s books with strong childhood memories of Palermo’s thanks to the Story People.
The Story People are the ever-evolving imaginative creatures of a young boy and girl who meet by chance in a “secret room” on the third floor of Palermo’s many years ago. The Story People are ghost-like without being scary and ravenous story-eaters without being destructive. They’re demanding yet sympathetic. Ultimately, the Story People would be the perfect subject matter for a young author/illustrator looking for an idea for her second book.
Ben and Rosemary both suffer from the well-intentioned meddling of friends, family, and acquaintances who know just how each of them should spend their lives, and with whom they should spend it. Thus, the reader is introduced to Professor Jenson, Oma, Mrs. Gardner, Liam, Mrs. Frank, and Mrs. Baumgartner, each with their own histories, quirks, interests, and foibles.
Woven all together, The Story People tells a delightful story of a community that encounters all the usual pitfalls of selfishness, anger, scheming, and drama, while also blossoming in forgiveness, charity, kindness, and resolve.
Ever in the background is St. John’s Lutheran Church, pastored by a young Dale Andrews, whose shepherding is often needed, and always well-regarded.
The Story People reads a bit like a Love Inspired® book you’d find on the shelves of a small library at an assisted living facility. That is to say, it is an easy read with serious themes that never takes itself too seriously or leaves you, the reader, without hope. Unlike a Love Inspired® book, the Christian themes in The Story People are not blandly generic, but clearly grace-rich and Christ-centered (i.e., Lutheran).
Like a groan-inducing punchline to a joke that tries too hard to be funny, there were times when the Lutheran dimension of the book felt forced, as though it was put in the story to appease the publishing house rather than serve the narrative. One such instance is early on when Rosemary and Ben first cross paths and she purchases a biography on Lucas Cranach the Elder from Ben’s store. I rolled my eyes. Of course, if the reader doesn’t know who Lucas Cranach the Elder is, then this detail will be skimmed over without thought.
The Story People is a promising and delightful novel from Heather Kaufman that will likely appeal more to a female audience than a male one. It’s a quick and delightful read if you’re looking for an enjoyable and well-structured storyline. I’d recommend it to my parishioners, both young and old, without reservation.
Rev. Timothy A. Koch, Pastor of Concordia and Immanuel Lutheran Churches in Cresbard and Wecota, South Dakota.