RITA Reader Challenge Review

RITA Reader Challenge: The Welcome Committee of Butternut Creek


Title: The Welcome Committee of Butternut Creek
Author: Jane Myers Perrine
Publication Info: Faithwords 2012
ISBN: 9780892969210
Genre: Contemporary/Other

Book The Welcome Committee of Butternut Creek This RITA® Reader Challenge 2013 review was written by Livvy. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Novel with Strong Romantic Elements category.

The summary:     

Upon his arrival, Butternut Creek Christian Church's newly-minted minister is met by a welcome committee led by Miss Birdie and her friend Mercedes, a.k.a. “the Widows.” Their first order of business, to educate him on how things should be done, quickly gives way to a campaign to find him a wife.

When their matchmaking efforts fizzle, the Widows turn to another new bachelor. Amputee and Afghan vet Sam simply wants to be left alone– a desire that's as good as a red flag to the Widows! Soon they're scheming to pair him up with Willow, his beautiful physical therapist, a divorced mother of two who is afraid of commitment. 

And here is Livvy's review:

When I first came across the summary to The Welcome Committee of Butternut Creek by Jane Myers Perrine, my interest was immediately piqued.  I will admit that I went into this novel with the expectation that I would be reading something akin to Cranford, i.e. – a tale about a green newcomer who struggles to adapt to the idiosyncrasies of small-town life amidst some otherwise trivial turmoil that threatens to turn everything upside-down.  There is something enchanting about the small town setting – an innocent little village just waiting for chaos to come-a-knocking.

And, it does start out similarly enough.  Adam Joseph Jordon, a new minister fresh out of seminary and our ostensible protagonist, arrives in his new home of Butternut Creek, Texas to a lukewarm reception.  Quickly realizing that he has much to learn if he wants the approval of his new congregation, particularly that of the demanding Miss Birdie, Adam sets out to win over the people.

Meanwhile, Birdie MacDowell, a no-nonsense, overbearing, yet secretly softhearted widow and patron of the Butternut Creek Christian Church, can’t help but find immediate fault with the minister.  From his shaggy mane to his spring-chick youth, she finds herself at the beginning of an uphill battle to whip her newest underling into shape.  Of greatest concern, however, is Adam’s status as a bachelor.  Armed with a list of single ladies and a plethora of matchmaking tricks that she clearly learned circa 1910, Birdie and the Widows of Butternut Creek make it their mission to find Adam a wife, with or without his consent.

Unfortunately, at about 30 pages into the novel, this is where all similarity and most of the charm end. 

We are shortly introduced Sam Peterson, who is a veteran marine moving to Butternut Creek to reside and recuperate in his late aunt’s house after losing his leg in Afghanistan.  Having witnessed the death of his best friend in battle and blaming himself for the loss, he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, with which he copes by drinking to the point of excess and isolating himself from all possible human interaction – save for one woman.

Enter Willow Thomas, Sam’s physical therapist, and evidently the woman of his dreams.  Willow, a recent divorcee whose ex-husband left her for a young bombshell, moves to Butternut Creek with her two sons to start anew.  Through a series of contrivances involving Willow’s sons, Sam inadvertently becomes something of a father figure to the boys, leaving plenty of occasions for doctor and patient to interact.  Endowed with incredible beauty (silky red locks, green eyes as clear as a mountain spring) she almost instantly becomes the object of Sam’s affection.  In fact, seconds after seeing only her backside, he loses himself to ardor, though quickly denies any serious affliction, because apparently marines aren’t allowed to feel emotion.  The only feeling Sam permits himself is self-loathing, which is Ms. Perrine’s way of trying to make us pity Sam. 

It does not work.

Women love a project, and that is what Sam is – something to be fixed.  Though he has the most prominent plot arc, and should be viewed as the book’s second protagonist, he bears the unfortunate handicap of being the least tolerable character ever penned.  Sam is presented as being someone who, deep down, has a good heart, if only he could get past his burdensome depression.  His actions, however, suggest otherwise.  Being a self-described jerk and someone too interested in wallowing in his own filth and shame, it comes as no real surprise that the minute Willow walks into a room, Sam suddenly can't think without his penis.  He spends the majority of the book lusting after his PT, despite her constant protests:  professionally, she cannot, should not, date him as a patient; she has enough trouble watching over two boys, let alone a grown man with a high enough blood alcohol content to kill most people; and most importantly, she is still dealing with the betrayal of her last husband.  Still, at every meeting, he makes every attempt to woo her in the smarmiest manner possible.  At every turn, he corners her with pointed questions and his own needy desires.  He blames his obsessive interest on Willow’s uniqueness, and yet his only perception of her personality is that she is resilient – specifically to his “charms”.   He barely mentions anything concerning any other characteristic she might have, save her beauty, on which he comments frequently.  Sam’s thoughts are constantly on her body, describing her with a slew of lascivious adjectives that suggest that he sees her as less of a romantic interest and more of a conquest.  These are not the behaviors of an inherently good-hearted person who is merely depressed.  Disrespectful at best, Sam is a shallow wolf whose undue reliance on good looks has only been marginally subdued by his tragedy.

Meanwhile, Willow, clearly an independent and intelligent woman, loses all ability to use common sense where Sam is involved.  Quite reasonably, thanks to her ex-husband’s philandering ways, she comes to distrust men, for fear that they are more interested in women for their bodies than their personalities.  This is exactly what Sam is doing to her, and yet, with all the resolve of a starving Rottweiler staring at a burger, she continues to forgive him for the sole reasons that he makes her feel like a woman again.  Case in point, Willow thinks to herself:

“Oh, who was she kidding.  She was already incredibly attracted to this man for reasons that had nothing to do with his relationship to her sons.  She was attracted because, despite his attitude, he was smart and handsome and sexy … He made her feel like a desirable woman.  She hadn't felt that since she'd found out about [her husband’s mistress].”

This is not the start to a healthy relationship, and largely, this is where the romance portion of Butternut Creek falls short – inconsistency.  It would be fine if Ms. Perrine would admit upfront that their attraction was nothing but physical, but she does not.  Apropos of nothing, Sam finds himself in deep, unshakeable love with the “luscious PT” (his words, not mine) and is overcome with the desire to marry Willow, for no other discernable reason besides, hey!  This is a Christian novel, guys!  Following that train of thought, and despite the title, no nuts are ever buttered, if you catch my drift, which is surprising given that all Sam and Willow can think about is ravaging each other.  The overwhelming theme is that love is all they need to fix their problems (spoilers:  it does), yet there is barely any development of their growth together.  The subject of Sam’s PTSD is occasionally danced around, but never seriously addressed until the end of the novel, where it is wrapped up in a neat little package.  Willow’s anxieties left over from her ex-husband are brushed aside because Sam is clearly a different man, and all is right in the world. 

Sam and Willow’s tale sounds as though it was written by one who has fantasized about being relentlessly pursued, but has never known the inconvenience.   Contrived and cringe-worthy, it unfortunately makes up half the novel.  Normally, I would insert here a witty segue to re-introduce you to Adam and his portion of the book, but there is no real natural connection present.  Butternut Creek is effectively two small books compressed into one with all the delicacy of a vise – one part tacky romance, and one part small town yarn.  The only real shared veins between the two are location and some semblance of character interaction.  For example, Adam, our wide-eyed but quaint minister, makes a few attempts to engage Sam, but their first interactions go thusly:  Adam is awkward but pleasant while Sam snarls at the minister for trying to “fix him”, remembering every few minutes that he hates talking to anyone without a vagina and a pair of perky breasts.  And yet, somehow, despite having nothing in common and no reason to like one another, three-quarters through the book, they are suddenly confidants for no other reason than God brings all people together! 

With tenuous threads such as these, it’s hard not to get whiplash every time Ms. Perrine swings between plots. The rest of the book, in comparison, is a veritable respite, but trust me – that shouldn’t inspire much confidence. 

Concurrent to the romance arc, the book follows Adam in his quest to gain acceptance with his flock, particularly with Miss Birdie.  Adam is Sam’s foil in every sense – he is idealistic, warm, charitable, and entirely capable of enjoying a conversation with another woman without melting into a pool of lust.  The new minister, though bumbling and green at times, is great fun to read, which is unfortunate because none of the stories involving him are all that compelling.  Adam’s tale is told, more or less, through several short interludes, chronicling his attempts at becoming friends with the locals, guiding the disenfranchised youth, and dodging the Widows’ every attempt to find him a wife.  And those are the extent of our hero’s problem.  Adam is effectively filler.  Unlike Sam and Willow, who take the entirety of the book to “work” through their problems, all of Adam’s crises are cleaned up at the turn of a page. 

If Adam appears to lack depth, it is because he is given no chance to develop as a character.  None of the characters are.  The closest we come to real complexity is Birdie.  Like a burdened Atlas, the Widow McDowell takes it upon herself be the foundation of Butternut Creek.  On paper, this sounds wonderfully selfless, but Birdie does this because she cannot bear the thought of anyone else taking charge.  When not formulating convoluted plans to introduce Adam to any available single woman under 30 or intruding on the personal life of anyone who suffered the misfortune of forgetting to lock the front door, she is scowling at everyone’s incompetence while touting her own sagacity. 

Yet, Ms. Perrine wants us to forgive the leader of the Widows because, aside from the minister himself, Birdie is likely the most well-intentioned character in the novel.  Despite seeming domineering, she is more interested in helping others than taking care of her own ailing body.  We are treated to one mildly heartstring-tugging tale of a young girl who is separated from her mother after a car accident.  Birdie cares for the child as if she were her own granddaughter, though not without complaint.  Literally every other sentence is a backhanded grumble on how she cannot watch the girl for long term.  A classic textbook example of the Japanese tsundere, Birdie constantly rebuffs any compliments on her kindness and retorts with a sharp comment about her weariness.  Unfortunately, like most other arcs in this book, the child’s tenure in Butternut Creek lasts the length of a Mayfly’s lifespan, and her mother’s situation is cleaned up so perfectly without any consequence that Birdie has no chance for growth. 

While these snippets of “small town life” are all very diverting, and would make for great feel-good news reports, they make for a poor plot to a novel.  There is no resolution, because frankly, there is no conflict.  There is no antagonist, save perhaps the protagonists antagonizing themselves with their self-importance.  While it has its occasional moments, between an unrealistic romance and an uninspired story of community, The Welcome Committee of Butternut Creek ultimately fails to deliver.  It attempts to integrate ideals from this Christian idyll into both sides of the book, leaving readers with a less than cohesive hodge-podge of feel-good moments wasted on largely undeserving characters.  Had Ms. Perrine focused on a single story, she might have had the time to flesh out her creations and write a more captivating plot.  Sadly, what we are instead left with is an overly sugarcoated slice of small-town life – sickeningly saccharine, leaving me empty and wanting.

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