Prather’s Pick: A Coming-of-Age Novel
This week’s novel for adults is a coming-of-age story. “The Excellent Lombards” was written by Jane Hamilton. This 2016 book is published by Grand Central Publishing.
While reading the book it becomes apparent that Hamilton has a love for farms, perhaps land in general. According to her brief bio on the inside jacket of the book, she is married to an apple farmer. Love of the land and loss of farmland to development of houses, businesses and highways seems to be the focus of this book.
Twelve-year-old Mary Frances (Frankie) Lombard is the central character of the novel. She lives on an apple/sheep farm with her father and mother, Jim and Nellie Lombard, and her brother William, who is 11.
The farm is described as a compound because there are three houses; three barns; 400 acres of forest, farm land (some used for hay), and sheep pasture; and apple trees. It sounds like an ordinary farm, but as the reader discovers, it isn’t really “ordinary” at all; that’s because there are so many family members involved in it.
Mary Frances and her family live across the road from the Manor House. It is a granite house that was built by great-grandfather who was a lawyer, state senator, and gentleman farmer. Father (Jim Lombard’s) cousin Sherwood, his wife Dolly, and children, Amanda and Adam live in the downstairs. They own 3/8 of the entire house. Aunt May Hill lives in the other
part of the house. Sherwood was raised in the Manor House.
Down the drive, past the Manor House, is the apple barn where the apples from the orchard are sorted, stored and made into cider. Behind that is the sheep yard for 30 ewes.
The farm was passed from aunt Florence and Uncle Jim to Sherwood, Jim and Aunt May Hill. There is a “war” of sorts going on between Sherwood and Father. The problem for Sherwood is that Father didn’t grow up on the farm. He spent his summers in the orchard working with his maiden aunt, Aunt Florence. Then while Sherman was in the army, Father came to help out. Sherman came back and he and Father were made partners. Father has come to love the farm; he’s an expert to getting the hay in. But does his summer work and pedigree constitute a claim?
Mary Frances and William overhear their parents talking. Father thinks he should will his part of the farm to Sherwood. Mother (Nellie) thinks otherwise. She is the director at the library; she has put her nest egg into the farm. What about Mary Frances and William? They love the farm.
Father is Chairman of the Farmland Preservation Committee that has come up with the Plan to restrict land-use development in order to preserve farmland in the township — to prevent development of housing, businesses, and highways.
Meanwhile, Mary Frances, William and their cousins grow up, attending school and participating in events like the Geography Quiz Bowl. What will happen when they’re ready to go to college? In the end, will they inherit the farm?
There are other characters in the book, too, such as Gloria Peternell, a hired hand who has been on the farm a long time, Stephen Lombard and Cousin Philip.
I think that this novel has several messages for the reader. What fun it would be to discuss the possibilities in a reading group. It’s an intriguing book.
“The Excellent Lombards” costs $26 in hardcover. You can also find the novel with other new books at the Craig branch of the Moffat County Libraries.
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