Postcard from Three Pines

I’ve been in Three Pines, where Louise Penny sets her Chief Inspector Gamache mystery series, for about six weeks now. I’ve suffered through several long winters, endured a few hot summers, and relished as many perfect springs and autumns in that short time. On January 20th (the date is no coincidence), I fled to this village in Canada just above the Vermont border, a place safe and filled with hygge. The Oxford Dictionary defines hygge as “a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.”            Oddly, it hasn’t matter that in each of the twelve books I’ve read during my sojourn, a murder has occurred because Louise Penny has created Armand Gamache, whom I grew to trust and revere. I knew each time I opened a new book that  Chief Inspector Gamache would ultimately expose the murderer, along with a few lessons about the human condition. The murders were much less disturbing than never-ending alerts on my telephone or the incessant chatter on television about what the daily disaster was back on the home front.            I fell into Three Pines like it was the puffy feather duvet my grandmother had washed so many times you couldn’t tell what the original colors were. I tried to pace myself, remembering there are only twelve books so far. I gobbled chapters faster than the characters devoured croissants, omelets, and chocolate chip cookies. I imagined drinking whisky, beer, and countless bowls of café au lait with my new friends, even though I have never had anything but dark roast black coffee my entire life.            I was drawn to the roaring fireplaces in the bistro with mismatched chairs and sofas waiting for me to plop down into with a good book. I knew I would find no shortage of reading material in Myrna’s bookstore and that Olivier would bring me a glass of red wine with a bowl of nuts without being asked.I hoped I would be invited to another of Clara’s potluck dinners where I might be treated to beef bourguignon, warm apple pie, and a glimpse of Ruth, the crusty foul-mouthed poet who always brings her pet duck to village affairs. Poetry is part of the normal conversation in Three Pines among many of my new friends, while some prefer cussing, or a combination of both.            I’d finish one book in the Gamache series, vowing to take at least a few days off before starting another. But I didn’t want to leave Three Pines knowing what awaited me when I hit  the “on” button on the remote control. So I hit the “purchase the next book in this series” button instead.            I worried a little about what would happen when I ran out of books and could not longer descend from the great lookout above the valley into Three Pines, which is uncharted on maps. Was there a twelve-step program for my addiction? To prepare for my withdrawal, I read a little about Louise Penny’s background and learned she created the series and the setting after 9-11 because she wanted to provide a place where readers felt safe and comforted, offering them a cast of characters who would feel like friends.            And that may have been the biggest gift from my retreat to Three Pines. What I learned is how powerful good writing can be. It doesn’t have to be dark, disturbing, provocative, or revolutionary, although many of the Gamache books include these elements. Good writing need only reach the heart and soul of the reader. What writers have reached your heart and soul? 

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