Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

April 17, 2013

A good book at a good time

Nathan Harter
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — Rod Dreher’s latest book has arrived.

The Little Way of Ruthie Leming describes his sister and the impact she had on the little Louisiana parish where the two of them had grown up. By the sound of things, she must have been some kind of saint. And Dreher is some kind of writer, so you’re in for a treat.

I teach university undergraduates in search of a life that has meaning. They are looking for truth (more or less), for mates, and for that all-important academic major to study while in school. We teachers say they can be anything. We fill their heads full of dreams. But what if – instead of dreams – they have a calling?

Ruthie touched so many people in her shortened life. And her big brother was there to chronicle the story. Which is not to say that he completely understood her choices. They grew up in a rural town far from the big city, and he couldn’t wait to get out and get away. But his sister stayed, married her high school sweetheart, and raised a family.

Whereas Ruthie is at the center of this book, the community of St. Francisville illumines its pages with downhome goodness. The things that had so irritated a younger Rod turned to be part and parcel with the things that gratified the mature Rod. Yes, a small town can be stifling, unimaginative, and dull. It takes a lot of inertia to break free.

As the book goes on, Rod and his wife begin to think that maybe the time has come to return home. Ultimately, they testify to the lost values that folks in small towns never knew were missing. Along the way, Dreher also discloses much about his own spiritual odyssey, that like for so many literary figures (especially in the American South) widens out and circles back to front porches and sweet tea, evening ballparks and cool tombstones.

Sociologists can talk all day about the differences between (a) society, on the one hand, where you play a role almost anonymously as part of the backdrop, and (b) community, on the other hand, where you’re Uncle Billy’s boy with the thumb that got smashed in the car door on prom night. Each has its virtues.

Although I don’t recommend smashing your thumb in the car door, prom night or otherwise.

Many of us have forgotten the virtues of community, if we ever did learn them in the first place. I admit, I was stand-offish for eighteen years in Greensburg, hiding in part because I was often ill or simply insecure how to behave. I think Dreher captures the goodness, without glossing over the very real frustrations that come with intimacy.

I dare you to read the book without catching a sob now and then. Also, when you’re finished, you’ll urge somebody you know to read it next. I just did.