End of an Era
Those Acts of Engagement
In A House Beyond Expectations, Earl Laman's first published novel, he traces Jackson Albright Hilton's new beginning in a small West Michigan town. Jack finds himself in Mitten Lake after eleven years as a wanderer, a vagabond running from his economically privileged but emotionally impoverished background. As caretaker for an old house on Hilltop Avenue, he is surrounded by three generations whose acceptance awakens him- to himself and the possibility of a life distinctly different from the past.
But awakening can be as harsh as it is promising. In Those Acts of Engagement, it's a new year and Jack must learn to live as part of other people's lives. It means giving up loner status. It means dealing with who he is, what he missed and did not miss, what he was given and not given, as he encounters a circle of persons significant to his new life.
His yearning to connect with others, to truly belong, gets an ultimate challenge in Julie Lynn Swindel. Although she sensitively relates to him during his times of despair and adjustments, she too is emerging from a broken young adulthood- a youthful marriage too soon gone sour. Even while raising a young child, Julie is coping with her own challenges with an energy and faith that Jack finds amazing.
Jack's healing is stimulated by interaction with a diverse cast of personalities- from the three old women in "The House" to earnest Jake on the waterfront; from the inimitable Andy Spoelman to the spouting Aunt Jane; from Spud at the main intersection to the rural family folks; and from the Hispanic newcomers, who live on the margins of the town's society, to the challenging young Dana.
But mostly there is Julie. She represents for him profound hope as well as deeply disturbing reality. Jack, like an untutored child, must learn how to embrace a "love-friend" so that intimacy becomes possible. In his emotional malaise, he gropes for ways of acting and engaging.
Jack narrates his own story as he stumbles over the past and fumbles in the present, reaching for what others take for granted- or let slip away. This is a tale of a prodigal who finally finds an alternative to returning to his father's house.
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