Fans of Ann Patchett and Haven Kimmel should dive onto the sofa one wintry weekend with Stephanie Kallos’ wonderfully transportive second novel, Sing Them Home. The best-selling author (Broken for You) centers her story in windblown Nebraska, where the already wobbly Jones family gathers to mourn the death of their physician father, Llewellyn. Emlyn Springs is one of those all-too-rare small towns in literature, rich in personality but mercifully free of broad, condescending cliché. The community, steeped in Welsh language and traditions, marks Llewellyn’s passing by the Gymanfa, where traditional hymns are sung continuously for three days to honor the dead and send them on their way.
The grief of the three Jones adult siblings — Larken, a chubby art-history professor; Gaelan, a gym-obsessed weatherman; and ethereal Bonnie, the sister the others fear is fast on her way to eccentric spinsterhood — is compounded by the childhood loss of their mother. Hope Jones was sucked into the sky by a tornado 25 years earlier, her body never recovered.
Kallos weaves Hope’s diary entries throughout the novel, fleshing out the family’s complicated history. As the novel floats back and forth from past to present, Kallos patiently reveals the hurt and longing that’s pounding beneath the surface. Especially poignant is Hope’s spitfire best friend and Llewellyn’s grieving mistress, Viney Cross, who holds more secrets than her yoga-toned body can bear. Alas, of all the terrifically drawn characters, brother Gaelan remains a frustrating enigma.
You should know going in that there are elements of magic in this story, where the dead crowd the sky, murmuring over the living. But the whimsy is grounded by Kallos’ keenly empathetic description of life in a Midwestern small town. The ending may leave you feeling so wistful for these strange, sad people that you find yourself fantasizing about a trip to Nebraska. A?