It’s the farmland of the Allegheny Mountains in western Pennsylvania in 1952. Teenager Jess Hazel lives and works on his family’s dairy farm. Jess’s older brother Walter had unexpectedly joined the Marines, and after basic training had been sent to Korea. The two brothers were close, with Walter taking the lead in their relationship despite Jess’s physical height – 6’7”. Jess adores his brother, while he maintains a respectful distance from his father.
On this day, which may be the last normal family day Jess will know, he wakes up in the darkness to milk the cows. As he walks to the barn, he sees the unexpected light on the mountain, shooting up from the distant sunrise. His father tells him it’s “Shekinah Light,” the name given by the ancients Hebrews to God dwelling on earth.
In almost rapid succession, the Hazel family receives the news that Walter is missing in action and presumed dead, and then Jess’s parents are killed when their pickup truck runs off the road. Jess is left to tend the farm by himself, at a time when mechanization is transforming general agriculture and dairy agriculture. Jess tends to stick to the old, proven ways, his one nod to modernization being a used tractor. But like other small farmers, he finds himself having to take an off-the-farm job to make ends meet.
At the neighboring farm, eccentric Eli Zook is raising a young child, born after her gypsy mother died in childbirth at Eli’s house. The child is not Eli’s; he’d taken her mother in when she had no place to stay. Jess will see the girl running wild near his own land and in the woods.
Ten years later, Jess meets Galina Morozov, whom everyone calls Gracie. Her parents are Russian, and they don’t think much of Jess. But Gracie opens up Jess’s world.
|Cheryl Anne Tuggle|
These are the people inhabiting Cheryl Anne Tuggle’s fine, quiet novel Lights on the Mountain. They endure love and hardship, wonder and revelation. Their lives are broken and remade, and often more than once. But they endure in their faith, Gracie in her Orthodox faith, and Jess in his faith in Gracie.
If this novel is about anything, it’s about endurance in everyday life.
Tuggle, a native of Oklahoma, grew up in the hills of western Pennsylvania. Her first novel, Unexpected Joy, was published in 2011. She’s a member of the Good Seeds Writers Society and a writer for the blog Orthodox in the Ozarks.
Lights on the Mountain is the kind of story where you know you’re sitting with Jess and Gracie at the kitchen table at their farmhouse. Jess is rather quiet; Gracie’s conversation and lively eyes tells you who the conversationalist in the family is. But you sit with them both as you hear the wind and glance through the window to see the lights on the mountain.
It’s a beautiful, moving novel.
Top photograph by Neil Rosenstech via . Used with permission.