A Review of
All Manner of Things: A Novel
Reviewed by Cynthia Beach
It’s a tender novel and worthy—this story of letting go and returning. How do you release someone you love and need? How do you let someone return who has left you? Or how do you return home after Korea and reenter family life when you no longer trust your world—or your hands?
The historical novel All Manner of Things by Susie Finkbeiner begins to answer such questions. Its issues set in the 1960s—family, coming of age, and the cost of war—are timeless.
Protagonist Annie Jacobson faces events that we wish-wish-wish no 18-year-old teen ever did. Annie’s father, Frank, has abandoned the family after Korea, and now amidst this spectacular debris, Annie’s beloved brother Mike must exit stage left for Vietnam.
Mike, who has become the mentor of this father-less family, challenges Annie, “Don’t duck and cover.” Face what is, he coaches her. His words become a guiding ethic as Annie confronts “grief that threatens meaning,” as Wolterstorff might say.
When her father, Frank, returns and begins to reestablish relationships, it doesn’t always go well. The family’s dysfunction isn’t erased with a magic wand—thank goodness. Hurt erupts. Anger flares. It’s a refreshing Christian novel on that score as the family’s love for God doesn’t make everything turn out all right.
The characters are wonderfully alive, starting with Annie, whom Finkbeiner said is the protagonist she most relates to among her six novels. Annie loves reading the classics and thinking. She’s a poet soul. Annie’s mother, Mrs. Jacobson, is a fierce woman who wears kitty heels and can’t cook water. And then there’s Bernie…oh, Bernie! Annie’s boss is a grumpy café owner. He works her hard—yes, but loves her well like a good father.
The siblings, too. Annie and Mike are good friends and watch out for their younger brother, electric-guitar-playing Joel. Oma is a gentle touch, but Grandma has her favorites, which wounds her grandchildren. Jocelyn Falck is Annie’s pal, named for Finkbeiner’s beloved friend, novelist Jocelyn Falck Green.
All Manner of Things is a stand-alone set in fictionalized Fort Colson—really West Michigan generally and 1960s Ludington specifically, says Finkbeiner. Michiganders will enjoy the familiar sites.
Finkbeiner gilds her writing with lyricism. She creates an objective correlative, a prolonged metaphor, in the prologue where twelve years earlier to the story present, six-year-old Annie sits with her daddy on the dock and hears the lonely cry of the loons. Later that day, Frank would abandon the family.
But before this excruciating event, Frank prepares Annie. He translates the loon’s call and explains to his little girl what the water bird is saying: “‘Hey, where are you?’ Then the other one answers, ‘Don’t worry. I’m right over here.”
This seems to be a transcendent answer. That people who leave us by choice—or against their choice—exist and are here.
The novel spools us into a bygone day—1967. Of course, the 1960s pop culture brings some nostalgic fun: “peachy keen,” “golly,” and “none of your beeswax.” Those of us who remember might laugh. Other 1960s pegs: pea-green Corvairs (a rear-engine Chevy that Ralph Nadar pronounced unsafe), The Ed Sullivan Show and of course, The Beatles.
Cynthia Beach is a long-time creative writing professor at Cornerstone University. She co-founded Breathe Christian Writers Conference and Breathe Deeper, a writing retreat. Her book, Creative Juices: A Splash of Story Craft, Process & Creative Soul Care is available. Visit her at cynthiabeach.com.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com