Before it is too late: A review of Where the Blue Sky Begins

Where the Blue Sky Begins by Katie Powner

Where the Blue Sky Begins by Katie Powner is an engaging, thought-provoking story that I enjoyed reading. Mrs. Powner’s excellent writing style and detailed descriptive scenes made me laugh, but also sympathize with the local characters. These characters are hard-working, honest people who care about each other and survive with the resources their small town offers.

The story opens with 32-year-old Eric Larson traveling to Tukston, Montana to work at his uncle’s financial company branch, Larson Financial, for the summer. Eric was determined to succeed, make his uncle proud, and get a promotion. On the way to Tukston, he had an accident and almost hit a lady driving on a scooter. This lady, Eunice Parker, happened to be his next-door neighbor. Eunice threatened to sue Eric for “reckless endangerment” unless he agreed to drive her to seven places on her bucket list. Reluctantly, Eric agreed to help her. Eunice had made several mistakes in her life and she wanted forgiveness from the people she had wronged.

The book presents Eric as a charming, meticulous, robust, and ambitious young man who hates dogs, makes assumptions based on first impressions, watches his diet, and dresses to impress. When he arrived in Tukston, he was not prepared for rural living that was completely different from his comfortable life in Seattle. Here, he noticed “the outdated buildings, the absence of traffic lights, and the spectacular number of pickup trucks and cowboy hats” (page 7). People drove the same type of car and they rented it to each other. He also noticed that everybody knew everybody else and their business; they were friendly, shook hands, shared their life stories, and cared for their families. They were also curious and scrutinized newcomers. In Tukston, everyone moved at a slower pace, shot gophers as a summer sport, and had a limited choice of goodies at the super market. He even encountered a roaming-free chicken that scratched his yard and left droppings–and eggs–at his front door.

When Eric met eccentric Eunice, he made assumptions about her–as he did for others. He was full of questions: Why does she live by herself? Why are her clothes and hair so unruly? Why is she always so angry? Why is she rude to him? After Eunice told him that she was dying of cancer, his attitude toward her changed. He became sympathetic and interested in learning more about her. Did she sit around the house in her pajamas all day? Did she work? Where was her dog? Didn’t she have anyone to stay with her? How did she dress before cancer? Did she change her urostomy bag every day? What would he do if he had six months to live? He found the answers to these questions when he began driving her around town and helping her.

Throughout the story, Eric reflects on his relationship with his “self-absorbed, unreliable, and adulterous” father (page 31). His father left Eric and his mom for a younger woman 20 years ago, and now he seeks Eric’s forgiveness. His father never cared about how his actions affected other people. Eric always tried to prove to his dad that he could do better than him. Yet he couldn’t help but wonder if he was like him. For instance, he chose to date only good-looking women and he dressed to impress.

During the story, Eric’s unexpected journey to Tukston challenged his beliefs and changed his perspective on what matters most in life. Slowly, the locals, Eunice in particular, won his heart and friendship. When he accepted their way of life, he found joy in country living. For example, he enjoyed driving Eunice, learning to fish, and wearing a short-sleeve polo shirt and no tie at work. He even began pondering that “in heaven, the sky is bluer than we can imagine,” (page 311), as Eunice had said before she died. He was mesmerized by the landscape and the immense blue sky. Here, he had more time in his hands than in Seattle, where he was always in a hurry, always busy with events to attend. He began to care more about the financial wellbeing of his clients, and less about making money for the company. He took on the responsibility to care for some rescued animals, something he had never done in his life. He even lent his Jeep to Eunice, and talked to a Polish hen named Cinderella!

Mrs. Powner is a gifted writer who knows how to manipulate words and turn them into unique metaphors. My favorite metaphors are:

“His hydro-blue Jeep stood out like a polished sapphire in a gravel pit” (page 7).

“Her list burned a hole in her jacket. She could almost smell the smoke” (page 46).

“The hopeful expression on Jane’s face ripped holes in Eunice’s heart, as if it were an old and brittle pair of pantyhose” (page 47).

“The little oven droned like a distant semi on the highway” (page 113).

“Her heart squeezed and twisted like a dishrag” (page 184).

“…Grasshoppers zinged out of the grass like six-legged fireworks…” (page 251).

“…her gaze bored into his back like the horns of a bull” (page 272).

Mrs. Powner leaves the story’s ending open to readers’ imaginations. Will Mason accept Eric’s invitation to dinner? Will Eric return to Seattle? Will he stay in Tukston longer? What will he do with all the animals if their owners don’t claim them? Who will be the next owner of Eunice’s house? What will become of Cinderella when he leaves Tukston? Who will be the next Senior Advisor at Larson Financial? Will Eric make amends with his father?

This story centers on the theme of living with a terminal illness. It’s difficult and scary to face this reality on your own. Faith is also a strong concept. Faith that there’s heaven on the other side when you face death. Other significant themes are friendships, family relationships, country living, wildfires, caring for others, regrets, judging others, and second chances. Furthermore, the story raises serious questions such as: What would you do if you had six months to live? Would you make amends with the people you hurt before your time runs out?

Likewise, the author’s message is clear: God already has a plan for us. We will be surprised when our own expectations don’t materialize. For example, Eric had promised his younger brother that he would be back in Seattle to help him move into the dorms at the University of Washington. But when a wildfire broke out in Tukston, he felt the responsibility to stay and help his friends instead. Another message in the story reminds us not to judge people by their appearance. First impressions can be misleading because we don’t know where these people have been and what they have seen in their lifetime. An example is Eric’s false assumptions about Eunice’s unruly clothes and hair. At the time, he didn’t know that Eunice wore an oversized shirt and coat to hide her urostomy bag; and that her illness left her too weak to shower every day and take better care of herself. A simple task like combing her hair drained all her energy.

This story truly touched me and made me think of all the things we tend to put on hold until it’s too late. Eric’s charming personality won my heart as I watched him change his way of life. Eunice’s dry wit humor and unpredictable character touched my heart, and incited thoughts of how pain affects our decisions and our moods. Cinderella made me laugh every time she appeared in a scene, particularly in the scene where she rode a scooter with Eric! I also laughed at the locals’ jokes and sympathized with their misfortunes.

Mrs. Powner’s beautiful writing provokes readers to search deep in their souls for what is important in life. Thank you to the author for gifting me a copy of her wonderful novel. I will definitely read more of her books.

  • Copyright © Harikleia Georgiou Sirmans 2011-2023. All rights reserved.
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