While his opening novel Desperate Remedies felt like a mechanical chess match, here Hardy appears as relaxed and happy as his characters are comfortable in their own skin and their fictiona,l humble, rural, fictional Wessex. The dramatic action centers on the replacement of the Mellstock church "quire" by the modern technological innovation of the pump organ, and the choir's confrontation with the vicar over their removal from the church program after years of service. The romantic interest centers on the attraction of one of the replaced musicians to the lovely new member of the community brought there to be the new school teacher--and to play the organ under the too-watchful and admiring eye of the vicar. When the wonderfully-named Fancy Day attracts the unwanted attention of a third suitor, we know by then that Hardy will handle his cast with care and kindness--and with a sharpness of tongue and observation that demonstrates his trust and respect for their intelligence and independence.
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