Opportunities to learn the lessons of business sometimes present themselves by unexpected means. While business books have long been an established genre, sometimes a different format is more effective in exploring the complexities inherent in our contemporary work lives.
Grounded, by Angela Correll, can be considered such an opportunity. A carefully crafted and beautifully written work, it digs into the issues of the search for meaning in today’s stress-riddled life. A seventh-generation Kentuckian, Correll has written a first novel that shows fiction is at times the most effective means of exploring who we are.
Some critics argue that the first sentence of a novel is the most important one, setting the tone for the rest of the book. Correll’s opening line seems in agreement with this idea, defining the context of the novel in five simple words: “Annie couldn’t wait to get home.” This is a novel about home — finding meaningful work that sustains us, values that ground us and relationships that complete us.
Supportive of this central theme, Correll also weaves in contemporary ideas on sustainable living, the slow food movement and farm-to-table food production. Within the fictional context, she presents ideas of contemporary writers and thought leaders on these issues such as Wendell Berry and Michael Pollan.
Correll’s fiction is based on her experience. She is the co-owner of The Bluebird, a restaurant promoting local food, as well as Kentucky Soaps & Such, a shop selling handcrafted goat-milk soap. Both businesses are located in Stanford, Ky., and both are high quality and exceptional.
While Correll sets her novel in a fictional rural setting in Kentucky, the reader can’t help but wonder if it actually exists. Correll writes on a parallel with Garrison Keilllor’s Lake Wobegon Days, giving us characters and places so memorable that we feel as though we could stop in for a glass of sweet tea.
This is reinforced by a pencil-drawn map of “The Farms on May Hollow Road,” which opens the novel. This simple rendering reinforces a setting that could be construed as simplistic or even naïve. The author, however, fills in the lines with compelling writing that is filled with warmth and humor, sorrow and tragedy. Correll has given us an unforgettable portrait of life in rural Kentucky that allows us, as one character says, to “laugh and cry at the same time.”
Annie, the prodigal daughter in the story, is a 10-year veteran flight attendant who is grounded when the airline is taken over. She is forced to give up her New York apartment and simultaneously discovers that her relationship with her boyfriend is not what she thought.
Taking a break from her relationship and job-related stress, Annie decides to return to her grandmother Beulah Campbell’s farm in Kentucky. There, she finds the farm in disrepair and her grandmother in questionable health. This shotgun-wielding grandmother is Annie’s only living relative, and despite her country resilience, she needs help.
Through the character of Beulah, Correll skillfully shows us the contrast between the high speed of contemporary living and a more contemplative, even-paced life. For Beulah, the meaning of her life is centered in hospitality she gives others, her community and family, and her relationship to hard work and the land.
The descriptions of dinner, most of it from Beulah’s garden, are country scrumptious. Roast beef, potatoes and carrots, biscuits from scratch — and of course, homemade pie — grace the table as plainspoken conversation proves the author’s mastery of creating dialogue. Appropriately seasoned with colloquial expressions, it serves up the novel’s themes with evenhandedness.
While Annie’s intentions are to resume her life in New York as soon as possible, she finds herself drawn to her ties in Kentucky in ways she had long stopped considering. Even the sounds of the country have a new effect on her. When her childhood sweetheart, Jake Wilder, shows up, the stage is set for new choices. Jake, a successful corporate business executive, is considering his own relationship to the farm of his upbringing. After several missteps, he and Annie discover a new relationship between them.
Grounded is an engaging and delightful read. It is also a novel of substance that allows the reader to examine work, relationships and personal values in a gentle way that nurtures and inspires. Through her book, Correll urges us each to live with passion and purpose and to become truly grounded.
This book was recommended for review by Dale Ditto, senior vice president, McIntosh-Ditto Wealth Advisory Group of Hilliard Lyons.