When We Don't Quite Fit

Minnesota writer Jon Hassler's novels teem with memorable characters and stories. He fills them with surprising moments of grace, humor, and generosity. "I've been told that I make good people interesting," Hassler says of his work.

He does. A former small-town high school teacher and college English professor, Hassler writes of teachers and students, small towns and faculty lounges with some authority.

Hassler has written eight books for adults. They share a fictional geography—the Badbattle River runs through them all. And they share a common thematic landscape as well, exploring questions of community and vocation. His stories are about people who don't quite fit where they are, discovering where they belong.

Take Simon Shea. As Simon's Night opens, he has checked himself into the Norman Home, a rest home with a reputation for humane treatment of the elderly ("which is to say," as Simon summarizes it, "that we are neither encouraged to become senile nor encouraged not to.") He had retired to his remote cabin on the banks of the Badbattle after a distinguished career teaching English at Rookery State College, but moved to the Norman when he detected what he took to be the first signs of mental disintegration.

Simon tries to accommodate himself to a life spent rehashing the past over cookies with his fellow inmates. But it's obvious he doesn't belong in a nursing home. He can't avoid injecting life into the moribund Norman, sometimes with disastrous (and comic) consequences. After reflecting on the misadventures of one particularly difficult day, Simon concludes his nightly prayer:

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 1997
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