cover image Sign of the Fox

Sign of the Fox

Sara Stambaugh. Good Books, $16.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-1-56148-011-1

The clash of old ways and new in Lancaster County, Pa., at the beginning of the Jackson era is played out in this earnest but wooden story of two families. A traditional Mennonite, Gideon Landis compulsively works the land but denies creature comforts to his family. Distancing themselves from their Mennonite heritage, the Carpenters (originally Zimmerman) achieve economic and political eminence as proprietors of The Sign of the Fox, a thriving inn on a busy road. After Landis is bilked by Squire Carpenter in a land deal, his enterprising daughter, Catherine, goes to work at the inn where she is both exploited and exposed to worldliness. Despite different upbringings, Catherine becomes a friend to Eleanor, the flighty, cosseted Carpenter daughter, who has returned to her parents' home stigmatized by divorce. It is the upright Catherine who forces Eleanor to an unprecedented independent decision. While Stambaugh ( I Hear the Reaper's Song ) has a firm grasp of the milieu of the Conestoga Valley in the early 19th century, her tale of good versus evil lacks emotional immediacy. (July)