The setting for Leaving Oxford by Janet W. Ferguson is not in England, but in a small town in Mississippi. There advertising expert Sarah Beth LeClair works remotely for her company in CA and teaches a few classes at the University of Mississippi. A trauma has left her suffering from severe panic attacks, and she only feels safe in Oxford, where she grew up. Because of the limitations of her anxieties, she avoids getting into a dating relationship. But a new coach from FL enters her world as a friend and eventually becomes something more. When he has an opportunity to advance in his career by taking a college coaching position in another state, that puts him in a dilemma with the woman he has come to love who can’t leave town.
I thought the first chapter, especially about seven paragraphs in, was just kind of silly, but knowing the subject matter, I knew it would have to get deeper before long. And it did. Overall it was a good story, though I felt the writing fell a little flat in some places. I loved the cover.
The thing I appreciated most about the book will require me to back up to explain. I am a fan of Christian fiction, but some plot lines have everything being resolved in one act of repentance or in the character getting right whatever it is he or she needs to get right in their hearts, and they live happily ever after, when in real life, that act of repentance is just the starting point, not the end. For instance, in one book I read years ago, a couple had a troubled marriage and were even planning to divorce after an event in their daughter’s life. They were just marking time until they could get to that point. The author ended the book in a climatic and dramatic surrender of each to the Lord and to acceptance of each other. In real life, that would be a beginning, but it would still take a lot of work for the marriage to recover from everything it had gone through.
That said, I was happy to see that this author didn’t go that route. Though there is drama that advances the characters to where they need to be, there is also acknowledgment that change and recovery are journeys.
My favorite quote from the book: “Put God first. Don’t confuse passion for love. Love includes the work that happens after the passion. Love becomes a choice.”
Oddest incident in the book: the folk song “The Water Is Wide” is used in an engagement and played at a wedding. It’s one of my favorites and has a gorgeous melody, and the first stanza sounds very romantic – but in most versions, it’s about a love that “proved false” and “grows old and waxes cold And fades away like the morning dew.”
Some readers would want to know that a few of the characters discuss past indiscretions in their relationships, but not in an explicit way.
So, overall it was a good story, though I probably wouldn’t place it on my top ten favorites of the year. But there is a sequel I am considering reading to see what happens to one of the other characters.
(Sharing at Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)