Return in Kind

When Letty Hendrickson dies, she leaves an enormous bequest to Mather College – but to her husband Joel, she leaves 150 acres in Vermont that he didn’t know she owned. Joel goes to Vermont to sell the property, and discovers not a ski-country investment but the Ward Place: an old farm with a family graveyard and a house that is mysteriously clean and well-kept, in spite of having been empty since 1959. As Joel tries to solve the mystery of the bequest, he is assisted by three women. The first is Helena Woodhouse, who had a 45 year platonic friendship with Letty’s guardian Nathaniel Brantford, the iconic president of Mather College from 1940 to 1977. The second is Charlotte (Charlie) Reynolds, a beautiful teenager whose eager research reveals the long-kept secrets of the Ward Place. And finally, first-hand understanding of the Vermont closed to outsiders is provided by Eleanor Randall Klimowski, a scholar who has been fired from her teaching job because of her increasing deafness , and who is now cleaning houses to support herself. What emerges is a tale of romance, misplaced pride, and unendurable sorrow, as Joel struggles to discover whether his legacy was a reproach, an apology, or a twisted but genuine act of love.

Praise for Laura's 2010 Novel

"Return in Kind is a stunning, highly original novel with a cast of gifted characters who confront a haunted past that threatens to consume them. By interweaving family journals and letters into a seamless contemporary landscape of the wayward college, the mountaintop mansion and the struggling farm, Stevenson creates a lyrical work that reads as if a Shakespearean tale were magically transformed by the northern foothills of New England. A small masterpiece, Return in Kind is crafted with both a deft regional hand and a broad cultural arc as it boldly confronts the eternal conflict between the yearning of the human heart and the implacable march of time."

     Jonathan Edward, author of Yankee Doodle

"Laura C. Stevenson's wonderful RETURN IN KIND shows us the depth and spirit of geography: how generations, living and dead, can sing from a single patch of ground. Her main character, Joel Hendrickson, has lost his wife and is left land from her family in the stark beauty of Vermont; it is an inheritance which, he soon sees, offers answers to mysteries about his wife, Letty, and about his own soul. A vivid cast of characters, living and dead--the wise Eleanor, the stunning young Charlie, the ghost of Nathaniel--surround him in this place of discovery, darkness, rebirth; Stevenson stitches their lives together--their meaning for one another--brilliantly. The work is a rarity, steering clear of popular strategies and offering unrelenting honesty. This is a powerful read--a highly intelligent, moving, and humane novel."

     Joseph Hurka, author of Fields of Light: A Son Remembers His Heroic Father (winner of the Pushcart Editors' Book Award) and the novel, Before.


Reviews for Return in Kind


"[T]he great strength of Return in Kind is that Stevenson has constructed an intricate web of a story in which the challenges of a scholar's deafness and a contemplation of the nature of value are central to a highly compelling narrative. ... the book reads like a thriller that blossoms into an unexpected romance. It is full of wit and wisdom, but it also is loaded with drama." Mark Roessler, Valley Advocate [Full Review] "Stevenson's exploration of this landscape of hunger and heart is serenely paced and underlaid with a foundation of wisdom. In baring the framework built of loss and small acts of courage, Stevenson reveals how kindness and larger acts of courage take form in the soul and in community." Beth Kanell, Kingdom Books [Full Review] Stevenson chose the Deerfield Valley as the backdrop for the story, and her own town of Wilmington, fictionalized as Draper, provides the location of Hendrickson’s property. Although the reader doesn’t need to be familiar with Vermont or the valley to fully enjoy the book, local readers will instantly recognize the fictional Westover as West Dover, the local ski area as Mount Snow, … and the lakeside setting of the property as being on the Harriman Reservoir. Deerfield Valley News (pdf) "This is a passionate novel," Phil Innes, "Booksworth," Vermont Views [Full Review] "Many of Stevenson’s most moving passages convey how exhausting it is for the hearing impaired to participate in the simplest social interaction: the required agreeable facial expressions, the noncommittal responses, the struggle to piece together randomly audible words. As Eleanor reflects sadly, 'Sociability now was a triumph of form over content.' ..."Return in Kind conveys a history of land ownership in southern Vermont that is intimately tied to individuals. [The] characters’ richly fleshed-out lives also coalesce to offer, among other insights, a long view of feminism and a nuanced meditation on loss." Amy Lilly, Seven Days [Full Review] In a review of Return in Kind, Orhan Pamuk’s, The Museum of Innocence, and Jenny McPhee’s The Man of No Moon, Emily Grosholz has said:

"During the past year, I have read heaps of novels: while returning one sub-heap to the AAUW recycling bin in my town, I reflected that the three novels under discussion were the only ones that left me haunted, whose revenants commanded my attention." … “One of the most arresting features of [Return in Kind] is the evocation of Eleanor’s experience as a deaf person. When the narrative is in her voice, we only hear the fragments of conversation that she hears, and with her we try to guess the rest of the sentences from the context. . . . Eleanor has learned to live with reactions of surprise or annoyance from her interlocutors, when she can’t guess exactly what they said: she has learned to be a conversational minimalist and retreated into a well-mannered, profound isolation. By the novel’s end, … we know what this aural isolation feels like.” Emily Grosholz, “The Isolated Protagonist: Three Novels by Orhan Pamuk, Jenny McPhee, and Laura Stevenson,” The Hudson Review LXIII, Number 3 (Autumn 2010), 521-27