From the Publisher: "Right from the start, Layla Tompkin’s way forward is full of detours after her mother dies in breech birth, leaving only her and her devoted, sorrowful father, Ed. Then, at the age of five, Layla is rendered mute after a horrible accident. “God is leading Layla to speak in new tongues,” proclaims Pastor Simpson at the local serpent handling church. Soon after, Layla is found to possess the gift of healing and her reputation spreads. Even Doc Fredericks, the area’s skeptical physician, is forced to re-examine scientific tenets when Layla's healing touch is the only treatment that brings relief to his son Brian, whose legs were blown off by a landmine in Vietnam. Doubt and the miraculous, loss and survival, hurt and forgiveness collide when a secret challenges what everyone holds true, leaving Layla, her family and the community profoundly changed in a story about what it means to be truly healed."
This is a delicious character piece: carefully constructed to speak to human weakness and the gift of using broken or unlikely vessels to filter the miraculous.
It's revelatory that a book infused with the spiritual and the metaphysical can also extract great warmth from the ordinary. Layla Tompkins is not an extraordinary character. She is, instead, bestowed with the gift/plague of and extraordinarily miraculous power. Consider a conversation about sandwiches ----peanut butter or roast beef--- in pitch perfect realization of dialogue past the halfway mark of the novel; or Layla mounting a Greyhound bus, pig-tailed and equipped with emergency numbers as she goes to visit relatives.
Leonard could easy have made this into a sweeping spectacle of holy ordinance; rather she chooses instead to pen a thesis stringing faith and doubt; hope and heartbreak and peppered with characters so well-drawn, dynamic and believable, they leap off the page at you. There's a touch of John Irving here and a touch of Billie Letts: like their novels, like the best novels, Leonard chooses not to patronize readers; rather to welcome them warmly into the yarn--- as if we were beguiled bystanders watching the action unravel before us: laughing at quipped dialogue, suffering at the atrocious aftermath of war, the propensity of humanity to falter with suffering and heartbreak, the personal demons which haunt and taunt us as we grow older, wiser, frailer.
With this novel, timeless in its scope, and in addition to the thematic resonance above, you are set in a sort of age-old attic, squeaking floor boards beneath you, dust unsettling at the slightest touch and you stumble upon scrawled handwriting of the past as names and places spoken to you at random, jumping to life as you intwine yourself with the story and its all-too-human characters.
In a world where families are torn apart and abuse and violence are rampant: I enjoyed how this story cherished and championed the pure relationship of a father and a daughter; of flawed yet good-meaning men and women who painted the backdrop of Layla's formative years, who became her family---contrived and natural---
I know readers who are reluctant to engage with a story that speaks to religion; but , in this case, the spiritual facets of the novel are closely interwoven with the failings and triumphs of humanity: of hope, belief and love. I would encourage readers skeptical of miracles, or spiritual revivals of sort to indulge in the taut characterization. Though a religious person, I found myself disengaging from any strongholds of spiritual truths and instead spellbound by a gifted storyteller's magic.
This book, without a doubt, should be made into a film
I received this book for review from TLC ( though I am probably blacklisted by now for reviewing it so late after the promised date ;) For that, and to you blog readers, I apologize).