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What Faulkner did for his imaginary Yoknapatawpha County, Jon Hassler has done for a place called Staggerford. Wholly believable and fully peopled, often snowbound and teeming with pent-up life, his small Minnesota town and its inhabitants are among Hassler's most popular fictional creations. In this warm, uplifting, wryly humorous novel, the town's moral conscience, Miss Agatha McGee, takes the entire population on an adventure of truthfulness, charity, and forgiveness that no Staggerfordian no reader--will soon forget.

Dear James begins with the closing of St. Isidore's Elementary. During her entire teaching career, this school has been the linchpin of Agatha's existence, and now she is thrown back on her friends to sustain her. She finds her friends wanting.

Lillian Kite, her kind, faithful neighbor, can't provide her with the intellectual stimulation she craves. Frederick Lopat, her former student, can't piece together the parts of himself that were shattered in Vietnam. Sylvester Juba, wealthy and retired, repels Agatha by repeatedly proposing marriage; and his daughter, Sister Judith, espouses the sort of New Age theology that Agatha cannot abide. And there's Lillian's envious daughter Imogene Kite, whose ambition is to betray Agatha and destroy her reputation.

And so, fleeing from her unhappiness at home, Agatha sets off on a pilgrimage to Italy, unaware that her old soulmate and nemesis, Father James O'Hannon of County Kildare, Ireland, is waiting there to meet her. Basking in the golden light of Assist, she and James begin to rebuild their friendship--indeed, their love--while back home, in Staggerford and Northern Ireland, storm clouds are gathering that will alter both their lives.

Life-affirming and inspiring, Dear James portrays two kindred spirits struggling to overcome their late-life crises, while strengthening the bond that unites them. And everyone who studies this portrait--including the reader--is granted insight into the mysteries of the human heart.

Page One

Dear James, she wrote in blue ink on a page of cream stationery.

It's been snowing all night and my lawn lies deeply buried. There's a round cap of snow on my birdbath, and all I can see of my wheelbarrow is the black rubber handle grips poking out of a mound of white. The snow was a foot deep when I got out of bed, and now at noon it's closer to two. I should have thought to put away the wheelbarrow. My garden hose lies buried until spring.

Agatha McGee wrote these lines at her desk in the sun room, a small room facing south off her dining room. The blanched, unforgiving light falling through the eight close-set windows gave her forearm a chalky appearance as she pushed up the sleeve of her sweater to massage her arthritic right elbow.

Again this year Lillian and I are having a few lonely-hearts in for Thanksgiving--a holiday foreign to you? Lord knows I'm in no mood for entertaining, but I will put on my best hostess face and proceed, not only for Lillian's sake and the others' but also because as far back as I can remember, wisely or unwisely, I've striven to be predictable. Changeableness I've always equated with infancy or a disordered mind.

Agatha carefully blotted her spiky handwriting and turned the page of stationery face down as Lillian Kite, her lifelong friend, neighbor, and culinary advisor, approached from the kitchen, where both of them spent most of the morning. Lillian was a stout, red-faced woman of seventy years--Agatha's age exactly. Buttoning her quilted down coat tight to her throat, she came to a halt besides Agatha's desk and said, "I turned the oven way down and put the deviled eggs in the refrigerator. I'm going home and put on my party dress."

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Last modified: October 19, 2002