cover image The Monk Upstairs

The Monk Upstairs

Tim Farrington, . . Harper San Francisco, $23.95 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-06-081516-5

Gentle humor leavens the weightier themes of trust, religion and second chances in this satisfying sequel to The Monk Downstairs (2002). Tough-as-nails divorcée Rebecca Martin eases into married life with former monk and tenant Mike Christopher while she wonders just what they've gotten themselves into. Her pot-smoking ex-husband is trying to reform and be a responsible father, but his inability to follow through adds extra tension to Rebecca and Mike's newlywed life. Farrington beautifully renders the touching relationships between Mike and his young stepdaughter, Mary Martha, and his mother-in-law, Phoebe, whose mental acuity is steadily declining after a stroke in the previous novel. Mike's struggle to reconcile his contemplative nature with his new responsibilities (and Rebecca's disdain for religion) is engagingly portrayed as escapes to the attic to meditate. When Mary Martha decides she wants to attend mass with Mike, Rebecca's conflicts intensify; "It wasn't that she was opposed to God, per se. She just didn't want His damn church screwing with her daughter's head." Farrington has a knack for unusual descriptions, such as mid-week morning mass, a "wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am affair, like framing work in carpentry.... They left the interior decoration and finish work for Sundays." A poignant death scene ensures readers will reach for the Kleenex. Farrington's talent blossoms in this engaging novel. (May)