Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Hassler's Night

Minnesota novelist Jon Hassler died last week. His funeral will be tomorrow at the Basilica of St. Mary here in Minneapolis. I found out that a member of my parish, raised Catholic but married to a Lutheran, will be singing at his funeral. It seems that her aunt was married to Mr. Hassler.

The first book I read by Jon Hassler was Grand Opening. I read it in my mid-twenties, I think, and was instantly enchanted. It's the story of a family that moves back to the father's small home town to open a grocery story. So they will have two grocery stores -- the "Catholic" one and the "Lutheran" one. I found Grand Opening to be a kinder, gentler Main Street. There were plenty of critiques of small town small-mindedness and prejudice, but there was an underlying affection that made those critiques much easier to take.

After Grand Opening, I moved backward to Hassler's first novel, Staggerford: one week in the life of a high school teacher. Then I read the novel that I think is still my favorite: Simon's Night, about an old man who checks himself into a nursing home after he makes some unfortunate mistakes in his kitchen. Simon's Night is both poignantly sad and funny, at the same time. I remember that the small Lyric Theatre here in my hometown adapted it for the stage.

The summer I married, I went to a 2-day writing workshop at Mount Carmel Lutheran Camp near Alexandria. Our workshop leader was Jon Hassler. Besides spending a lot of time journaling that weekend, I remember him talking about his Parkinson's disease, his gratitude for his wife, and making jokes about the Catholic at a Lutheran camp. (Why don't you get Garrison Keillor? he asked. We like you better, was the answer.)

I read a review of his life recently that said he was a "middle-brow" author. Probably correct. Also, they noted a book I haven't read, North of Hope, as his best. Now, that goes on my reading list.

He was a lovely example of an artist working out his faith in stories. His themes are universal: love, sin, redemption, sacrifice, loss. He made me wonder again, as I have off and on throughout my life, whether I too can work out my faith in stories.

Maybe, in the end, it is the only way we can work out our faith.


LawAndGospel said...

Thanks for a wonderful lifting up of an author I will have to check out. I do think, as you say, we work out faith in our stories, the ones we write, or preach and the ones we share with a friend over coffee when we scratch our heads and ask "why" or shed a tear, or rejoice.

Anonymous said...

I haven't read any of Hassler's work. I'll have to put him on the "want to read" list.

Lindy said...

Thanks for writing this Diane. I think you're on to something.

FranIAm said...

That is a really nice post and may he rest in peace.

As Lindy says- you are onto something.

Hot Cup Lutheran said...

i'd say yes stories are foundational to our faith - they are the blocks we use, the art of choice in how we pass on, wrestle with, & celebrate the mystery... some are better storytellers. some are better listeners. some better writers. some better at sensing the untold stories. all gifts. but the same Spirit.

Anonymous said...

Another author to add to my reading list...thank you for your thoughtful post.

The Unlikely Conversationalist: said...

Grand Opening and Stagerford are classics. You are so right, this man from Plainview will be missed; not only in these parts but I hope beyond.
He made sense of people and the ways we don't always make sense.
It's sad to loose a great story teller but it's good to have the stories around.