Jamie Langston Turner

Sometimes a Light Surprises

From Chapter 1, "Not on Sundays," in which Ben is cornered in his office by a bossy secretary and an interviewee he has no intention of hiring:

Sitting at his desk, Ben stared at the photo, an old one with faded colors. It had been in his wallet for at least twenty-five years, stuck behind an expired library card and his voter registration, but transferred every time he changed wallets. He rarely looked at it and wouldn't be looking at it now if he hadn't been searching through his wallet for something else.

In the picture Ben was standing in front of a fireplace, holding the twins, one in each arm, as if they weighed no more than five-pound bags of sugar. They must have been around six years old, which would have put him in his early thirties. Chloe was standing next to him, holding Grant, and Shelly was in front of her, smiling stiffly at the camera as if worried that the automatic timer wouldn't go off. The twins were wearing princess dresses and silver ballerina slippers, with sparkly crowns on their heads. Each one had an arm around his neck. Hard to believe, since they had no use for him now.

"What I Lost"--that could be the title of the photo. Or "What I Gave Up"--that might be closer. A wife and four children. One dead, the others as good as dead.

Just then Caroline stuck her head in the office door. "Good, you're here. I was hoping you hadn't forgotten about the interview. She'll be here any minute." She shut the door just short of a slam.

Why Caroline thought his mere presence meant he hadn't forgotten, Ben couldn't say. As a matter of fact, he didn't know a thing about the interview even though he was sure Caroline must have written it neatly on his appointment calendar, something he usually failed to look at each morning.

He put his wallet back in his pocket and closed the book on his desk. It was a book he often consulted, a thick volume of word and phrase origins titled Say It Ain't So, Joe: A History of Common Expressions. He had been looking for high on the hog but hadn't found it among the entries. He stood up and replaced the book on the shelf where he kept it.

Turning back to his desk, he shuffled through some papers and found the application. He took it over to the window, held it at arm's length, and squinted down at the name. Kelly Kovatch. Female. Age twenty. He shook his head in disbelief. Kovatch? Surely not. But yes, that's what it said. Not exactly what you would call a common name around these parts.

Could it be that this girl was the daughter of Kay Kovatch? The age would be right. The name, too. Kay Kovatch would have been the type of mother to give all her kids names that began with the same letter as her own. He looked at the address on the application. He didn't recognize the street name, but that didn't mean anything. It was a Derby address, which would fit.

Ben couldn't remember exactly how many children had trailed along behind Kay Kovatch the last time he had seen her, coming out of the Derby Public Library one summer evening, but it was an immoderate number by today's standards, that much he knew. It could have been as few as five, but he thought it was probably more. And she was obviously in the last weeks of another pregnancy. That would have been over ten years ago now. He had sat in his car and watched her corral them all into a red minivan, talking and laughing the whole time.

It had been only months after that last sighting of Kay Kovatch that Ben had finally packed up and moved from Derby, South Carolina, over to Greenville, something he should have done long before. He hadn't been back to Derby since, though he had continued to subscribe to the Derby Daily News for reasons he couldn't explain--until a year ago, when he had canceled his subscription after being blindsided by a headline one morning: LOCAL MURDER STILL COLD TWO DECADES LATER.

He wished he had looked at the application before now. He could have told Caroline to call the girl and tell her not to bother coming in, the position was already filled. Caroline would have tightened her mouth at the lie, since it wasn't her own, but she would have done it. If there was one thing Caroline understood the value of, it was a well-timed lie. Ben glanced at the clock on his wall. Maybe he could still get out of it if he acted immediately. He could tell Caroline he had just remembered something urgent and needed to cancel everything for the rest of the afternoon and . . .

But he heard her voice now on the other side of his office door. "Yes, he's expecting you. Have a seat and I'll let him know you're here. You can leave your coat and umbrella out here if you want to." He heard the click of Caroline's heels as she approached the door again. She was two years older than Ben but seemed to have twice the energy. Brisk, busy Caroline, an overripe Barbie doll with her dyed strawberry blonde hair, all her matching clothes, complete with shoes in every color--today it was purple. Ben couldn't imagine how much room a woman like her would take up at home. She was divorced, though, so she didn't have to compete with anybody for closet space.

He sighed. He would have to see the girl now. But he would make it fast. He would act very apologetic that she had made the trip over here for no reason, especially in the bad weather. He would tell her that the job had just been given to someone else only minutes before--too late for him to contact her. He would wish her well, stand to see her out, shake her hand if she offered hers, and act solicitous about her safety on the way home during this unseasonable cold snap. He would urge her to be very careful in case the roads were slippery. Then he would close the door and throw her application into the trash can.

From reader reviews on goodreads.com:

"As in music, you may not know how to play a note, but when you hear something beautiful, you know it. I think the same is true for a good book. I am not an expert in writing, but this story is beautiful in that it keeps you engaged, thinking, reflecting, and seeing yourself in the story. . . . You will laugh, cry and cheer on these characters as they go thru the difficulties of life and relationships. I loved this book." (Jeanie)

"More literary in style, this book is not a fast read, but a thoughtful read. Almost meditative in places. It mixes the honesty of slice-of-life and moments of heightened realism that suggests more than is immediately apparent. . . . Even the ending does not undercut the book by some foolish happily-ever-after that ignores the rest of the book. It offers a hope, but doesn't march in and heal all the world's ills. . . . Favorite quote from the book: Art that treats only the pretty things of life, casting everything in the rosy glow of perfection, is narrow and dishonest. Favorite character: Reuben. He's not even a main character, but he was the perfect foil for Ben's daughter Erin. And funny." (bookme4life)

"It almost feels like peeking into someone's real life and watching in wonder. Every character is fully realized; no stereotypes or caricatures here. . . . The story builds quietly, one small piece placed upon another until it ends, naturally, wonderfully." (clockstein lockstein)

"Oh, how I love this author's work! I love the way she depicts God's sovereignty moving through our lives, working His will in His perfect way and in His perfect timing. I am humbled and chastened, inspired and encouraged, by this reminder!" (Sally)

"Sometimes a Light Surprises, in one word: Perfection. I just finished this book, but I wish I could go back and read it all again. . . . [It] is one of those books that just grabbed me right from the start and never let me go until the end. Everything about this novel was perfect; the writing, the story, the characters, the realities of life. . . . . I can’t recommend this book enough, but don’t just read it; absorb it, savor it, let its message of hope sink in and inspire you as it did me." (Carly)

"I truly enjoy her peeks into people's lives and the gentle way she goes about immersing the reader into their worlds. I find her writing thought provoking and intelligent." (Christa)

And then there's this one, not intended as a compliment, but which made the author laugh out loud:

"Turner is the kind of author that tells us exactly what the character is doing, when, or how firm the grapes that the character is eating are." (Chandra)








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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