Jamie Langston Turner

By the Light of a Thousand Stars

From Chapter 1, "A Few Short Years," in which Dottie Puckett is introduced: Lying on her daughter's bed, Dottie Puckett heard sounds as if they were magnified a hundred times that day. She heard the usual things you'd expect to hear--an airplane, distant traffic, the air conditioning turning on and off. And she heard other things, too--a high-pitched motorized whine from nearby, the chatter of a squirrel outside the window, a tree branch brushing against the gutter, the coursing of water through a pipe, her own breathing. Sounds told you a lot. Today they told her that people and things were going about their normal business in spite of what had happened here at this house only three weeks ago. Though everybody thought she was mild-mannered and good-natured, Dottie knew that what she felt right now was closer to anger than anything else. Not that she was angry at the planes and cars and water pipes, for goodness' sake, but why is it, she thought, that I have to go on breathing in and out when Bonita is lying in a box a mile down the road? >u:

One Wednesday morning in late August, Catherine Biddle was sitting at the only stoplight on Highway 11, just three miles away from Dottie's Be-Beautiful Style Shoppe, when she almost turned around and headed back home.

A question had just come into her mind: Why am I doing this? But in the few seconds that it took for her to note that the stoplight had changed to green and to move her foot to the accelerator, Catherine had thought of her answer--in fact, three answers. First, because she needed a trim and set; second, because Nancy, her regular stylist, had been getting careless lately; and third, because--Catherine prided herself in the fact that she wasn't one to deny real motives the way some people did--because she was curious. Curious about how someone like Dottie Puckett would handle death. Anyway, she couldn't have turned around and gone home if she'd wanted to. She'd have to get gas first. The little red needle was below empty.

. . . . Farther on Catherine came to a gravel driveway marked by a lopsided mailbox upon which was painted in white letters SID PUCKETT. Next to the mailbox was a small handmade wooden sign that read "Dottie's Be-Beautiful Style Shoppe." Catherine turned in and slowed almost to a stop, surveying the house at the end of the drive. It never ceased to amaze her how tacky some people's tastes were.

What could have been an ordinary-looking house stood out against the open fields like a red flag--only, of course, it was blue. And not a nice, conventional pastel blue or even a slightly bolder Williamsburg blue, but the frivolous blue of a robin's egg. Why, the house was only a step away from turquoise! Catherine couldn't imagine the day when she would sink so low as to live in a house that was the color of an Easter egg.

From Chapter 15, "Too Much Trouble," in which Barb Chewning is introduced:

Barb couldn't believe she had waited so long to start assembling things for their Thanksgiving dinner. Before this year she had always managed to get going at least two or three days in advance, but here it was the day before Thanksgiving and she hadn't even bought a turkey yet.

Balancing Sammy on one hip, she opened her pantry door in hopes of finding that some miracle of restocking had occurred.

"One itsy-bitsy can of sweet potatoes won't do it, will it, Sammy boy?" she said, holding up the can.

"Oranges!" Sammy said, pointing to the picture on the label.

"No, they're sweet potatoes," Barb said, laughing. "But hey, I just remembered something." She set Sammy down and bent to poke around in a mesh bag of potatoes on the floor under the pantry shelves. "Yep, I was right," she said triumphantly, pulling several large sweet potatoes from among the white ones. She had almost forgotten about picking these up at the grocery store a few weeks earlier.

She took them to the counter, and Sammy toddled after her. "They're past their prime for sure," she said, examining them, "but I guess it won't matter if all I'm going to do is boil and mash them." She got out a large pan and filled it with water.

From Chapter 27, "Close Range," in which Della Boyd Biddle is introduced:

One Saturday in February, as Della Boyd snipped three pale lavender crocuses and two white ones from the side of the house, she observed that their petals were translucent, like tissue paper. She knew they wouldn't last long after they were cut, but at least they would be pretty for a day or two. She liked the way the petals stood up and cupped around the center. Clutching the five small stems as a bouquet, she recited aloud a line of a poem Margaret Tuttle had presented at the last meeting of the Women Well Versed: "And grass, and white and red morning-glories, and white and red clover, and the song of the phoebe-bird." It was from Walt Whitman's "There Was a Child Went Forth."

Della Boyd wasn't sure why she liked the poem so much, but she had felt a tingle as soon as Margaret had begun reading it aloud. Something about it made her feel clean and spare and tightened down. It was actually nothing like the poems she used to like. This one didn't rhyme and didn't have a regular beat. Besides that, she wasn't even completely sure what it all meant because the shine and echo of the words had blocked out Margaret's comments about the poem afterward. She thought, however, that it might have something to do with the way all the things around a person somehow became absorbed into him. She loved the line about the mild mother "placing dishes on the supper table." She remembered her own mother doing that.

Della Boyd placed the crocuses gently in a shallow basket, then moved down toward the row of daffodils by the fence gate. She set her basket down and knelt. "You are the most cheerful flowers!" she whispered to the daffodils.

From a letter written on March 2, 2000, by a reader in Lake Crystal, MN:

"I was amazed at how well you represented each person's actual way of thinking, as though you were in her head. I especially loved the parts about the twins! You really put life into your characters. One night when I was sick and was lying on the couch reading, my 14-year-old daughter sat by me and asked if my book was good. I began to read her parts, like when Hardy began witnessing in the lunch room. I read her the whole account of the bowling activity and we laughed and laughed. Then Julie asked me to read the part about the lunch room again. It really got her to laughing. She goes to a public school and could imagine the whole thing. I'm sure I'm not doing justice in telling you how much I enjoyed the book. I've never read anything that made me really know the characters as you did with each one. Even down to little Sammy searching through the pockets on wash day."

From another letter, this one written by a reader in Durant, OK:

"I was charmed by your portrayal of a new set of 'bigger than life' characters in your third book. It always amazes me that I end up feeling as if I know these people. 'By the Light of a Thousand Stars' was a real faith builder for me, in that I'm praying for several family members who are about as far from God as Hardy was. One of my own personal shortcomings was really brought to my attention when Barb explained the concept of 'acting as if' instead of giving in to your own selfish feelings. Thank you!"

Selected Works

Fiction
"As Turner weaves her tale with a wealth of vivid detail, she avoids both sentimentality and patness."
--Deb Richardson-Moore
The Greenville (SC) News, Dec. 31, 1995
"In a lifetime of reading, a handful of books stand out—this is one of them."
–Michelle Rapkin, Editor, Doubleday/Crossings Book Club
"This thoughtful, warmly humorous novel takes a fresh look at the age-old search for peace and joy in a troubled, temporal world."
--CBA Marketplace
September 1999
That February afternoon was equal parts joy and heartache, but it began a journey Elizabeth Landis would never forget.
"Besides the fact that he was a married man, it was clear as soon as he spoke that his mission was anything but romantic. 'Do you have a toilet plunger?' he asked."
“Genuine humor and well-crafted characters make this a memorable and inspiring novel.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"I love putting little pieces together to make something beautiful. In a sense I saw the structure of this book as a mosaic." --From an interview with the author
"You can't rush through Jamie's books any more than you can rush through life itself."
--Sheila Petre
Mercersburg (PA) Journal, July 9, 2014

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