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Dwelling Places: A Novel (Plus S) Paperback – March 27, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this extraordinarily well-observed, contemplative novel, Wright focuses on a present-day Iowa family reeling from one tragedy after another. Its matriarch, Rita Mae Barnes, copes with the loss of her husband, son and farm by taking care of everyone around her. Her surviving son, Mack, struggles with depression serious enough to warrant a stay in a psychiatric hospital, while his desperately tired wife, Jodie, attempts to raise their children and support the family in his absence. It's not an easy task: their 14-year-old daughter, Kenzie, becomes enamored of a Christian cult and a mentally ill 35-year-old man, and their 17-year-old son, Young Taylor, slouches around town in full goth attire, baiting local law enforcement and loitering at the cemetery. Despite the bleakness of these circumstances, Wright manages an astounding level of honesty and plenty of wry humor without falling into the nihilism that pervades A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley's Pulitzer Prize–winning novel to which this story bears an intriguing resemblance. And unlike the bulk of Christian fiction, in which characters travel predictable paths to wholesome happy endings, this novel eschews hackneyed pietism in favor of an authentic portrait of people who do not completely regret their mistakes and are still learning how to accept God's consolation. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Dwelling Places isa sad, absorbing story about the disintegration and rejoining of an Iowa farm family. Mack Barnes knows that family farms are essentially extinct, but he cannot bear to lose his land. He tries farming at night for a while and working for the school district during the day. Inevitably, he crashes and falls into a deep depression. As the story opens, Mack returns from the hospital to an embittered wife, Jodie, who is about to begin an affair; a son, Taylor, who is fascinated with all things Goth; a daughter, Kedzie, who has become a Jesus freak; and Rita, Mack's quintessential Iowa mom, who scurries about her dwindling village doing good deeds. Wright's scenes move along almost magically, with "the horizon of the entire world close at hand." Her feel for an Iowa farm town is achingly precise. There is indeed a Christian message here, but it isn't easy or obvious, and when the novel draws toward its climax of muted hope, you know how painful a passage these good people have undergone. John Mort
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Plus S
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne (March 26, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060859547
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060859541
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,654,017 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

To see what Vinita is doing currently, you can find her posting regularly on the Loyola Press blog, Days of Deepening Friendship ( These days she is editing, blogging, giving workshops and retreats, and working on a new novel (yet to be named and too young and fragile to be exposed to the outside world). She's also on Facebook and Twitter.

Vinita Hampton Wright has been a book editor for twenty-three years, currently senior editor at Loyola Press in Chicago. She leads workshops around the country on the creative-spiritual process--The Soul Tells a Story grew out of this work. Of her full-length novels, Velma Still Cooks in Leeway won a Logos Book-of-the-Year award, and Dwelling Places was selected by Christianity Today as Best Fiction of 2007.

Wright has published an updated edition of Simple Acts of Moving Forward. Days of Deepening Friendship focuses on the spiritual experience of women. She now leads retreats on this topic (contact her at Her most recent book is The Art of Spiritual Writing: How to Craft Prose That Engages and Inspires Your Readers, based on her many years helping writers express their spiritual wisdom.

Vinita loves to cook, walk the city of Chicago, and watch movies. She and photographer/designer Jim Wright have been married 22 years. They share a bungalow on the far South Side with 2 cats and a dog, all of them rescues, all spoiled, and--depending on the day--helpful or not to Vinita's creative process. Vinita is finally learning to garden and now adds homegrown tomatoes, peppers, and herbs to her little feasts.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Gob on February 6, 2006
Format: Hardcover
`Dwelling Places' begins with vivid and rich descriptions, and doesn't really give up from there. Much like her two previous novels `Grace and Bender Springs' and `Velma Doesn't Cook In Leeway,' Wright gives a Christian message without moralizing. It is rich in characters, lush in storytelling, and filled with words that sway poetically at times on the page. What's always worked so well in Wright's storytelling abilities is you don't have to be a Christian to enjoy them; they're about families with problems everyone has: the children who are both crying out for help in radically different ways, the husband who is having a midlife crisis, the wife whose doesn't know how to fix her marriage, and the grandma who shows up as the foundation to the family. In many respects, her stories are like parables; she gives the reader a good moral message, but it's up to the reader to discover why it's moral.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Earlene Fowler on July 11, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I've enjoyed all of Ms. Wright's books including her non-fiction books on creativity and writing. Dwelling Places is truly something special. She has deftly and lovingly written about mental illness in a way that should open the eyes of anyone who reads this book. It is a sticky subject, something many people still feel awkward and uneasy about. But with her unflinching eye and obvious caring for people, she reveals the characters in Dwelling Places in such a way that it would be difficult for a person not to acknowledge and sympathize with the pain experienced by mentally ill people and the people who love them. I congratulate and applaud her for tackling a tough subject in such a graceful manner.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Lee Armstrong HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on October 16, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Vinita Hampton Wright's book packs a great wallop. I chose this book because it is set in my home state of Iowa. It was only after I was well into the book that I realized that although the town of Beulah is fictional, she did base it on Mahaska County. My dad graduated from Eddyville High; my aunt lived in Fremont; and my grandparents moved south to Monroe County in Albia. I have spent a good deal of time in this area. So I felt connected by virtue of the setting to this story. Clearly, Wright uses it as a universal setting for rural areas where people work hard and have a hard time making ends meet. I think she gets it right.

This story seems so true to life because the characters are very much like real people. I really appreciated the father Mack who has suffered major setbacks in losing his farm, his father and brother. The depression that this sends him into is well articulated. Wright allows us to get in Mack's head. We see that although he's deeply unhappy and unfulfilled on one level, he also greatly loves his family. His connection to his son young Taylor is beautiful. Young Taylor may wear the Goth make-up & garb, but inside he's a kid trying to come to terms with a difficult circumstance in his own unique way. While mother Jodie tends to want to rail at Young Taylor, Mack takes time to listen to his son, whether he's bailing him out of jail or sitting in a graveyard over his father and brother's graves.

The women are also written very well. The mother Rita who cares for everybody and makes it her business to help people without fanfare is so true-to-life. Her wisecrack that she understands how women who get older sometimes become lesbians just so they won't have to look after men anymore was hilarious.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By S. H. Britton on July 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I loved dwelling in this book. The story unfolds from several points of view and each is distinct and unique and of interest. The context of the book, the failure of family farms, is rendered as well as the story of a family towed under by losing their farm. This book relates some tragic stuff, but reading it didn't make me sad--because there's humor, and tenderness and warmth in the telling of the story. I actually found myself yearning to be part of a farm family, to have that kind of closeness to each other and the land. The depiction of the teen characters was especially good I thought. And best of all were these wise sentences, places where the writer went deeper and I learned something.

Many of the characters have lost their faith, and this loss is placed against the words of some incredibly beautiful hymns used at the begining of chapters. I wanted the characters to regain their faith and some of them did, but what they regain is different and seems less and thinner than the faith expressed in the hymns, and the faith the characters had before their losses, and this is hard to read as an evangelical Christian.

Also, the end of the story was quite abrupt. I don't believe I have ever read a good book that ended so abruptly before. It was as if someone had cut off the real ending and misprinted the book.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By S. West on October 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you enjoy books firmly rooted in a particular place, you might enjoy this book. It's a book about a dysfunctional family, one struggling to deal with the loss of a way of life, farming, in a small Midwestern town.

Wright looks at the disparate responses to this loss through the alternating eyes of Mack, the father who has just returned from a brief stay in the psychiatric ward for depression; Jodie, his wife, who has stoically held things together while he was gone, and now, on his return loses both faith and fidelity; fourteen-year old Kenzie, who has turned to Jesus but, alas, come under the sway of an older man who, unbeknown to her, has his own mental and emotional problems; Rita, the grandmother, who hangs onto faith but won't have anything to do with the church; and Young Taylor, the sixteen year old son who dresses in Goth attire and keeps his distance.

Really, all of these characters are struggling with faith in God, with believing in a good God even when life is difficult. Mack is depressed and almost takes his own life. Jodie has an affair that nearly ends the family. Kenzie goes off the religious deep end. Rita retain faith in God but has none in people. And Young Taylor, the one who the story doesn't directly focus on? Well, he's the one who makes the clearest affirmation of faith. He's having a conversation with Mack, telling him about how he had almost drowned when he was sixteen after falling out of a boat:

"I started taking in water, and I tried to find the surface but couldn't. I couldn't see my own air bubbles. I thought, This is a stupid way to go.

Young Taylor pauses. So does Mack. . . .

An then I had this feeling that I was going someplace else and that everything would be okay.
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