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Our Lady of the Prairie

Phillipa Maakestad plunges into her affair with Lucius Bocelli like the tornado that will send her daughter Ginny's entire wedding party into the church basement. She wasn't looking for a distraction. But after 25 years of marital stability, a theater professor at an Iowa university and dedication to a volatile daughter, Phillipa is vulnerable. After one look at Lucius there's no turning back.

Thisbe Nissen's hilarious third novel is also a commentary on the United States in a contentious election year: Bush versus Kerry in 2004, with chilling parallels to 2016. With an acerbic and enigmatic mother-in-law (who stars in a lengthy surrealistic fantasy exploring the possibility of a Nazi on the Maakestad family tree), Ginny's sweet, lapsed-Amish husband Silas, his unwed sister and her baby, Phillipa and her affair seem tame. She vacillates between self-absorbed and self-deprecating, and her soul-searching--often to the soundtrack of show tunes--is endearing.

The wholesome Midwestern setting provides rich humor. The affair begins on a wintry Ohio campus, and the lovers' major obstacle is Chicago traffic on the Ohio/Iowa route. Church signboards offer "faith lifts" and "prophet sharing," and Silas and Ginny's pastoral farm serves as a Kerry campaign center. While adultery is at the heart of this delightful novel, Phillipa and the extensive cast of supporting characters exhibit kindness and forgiveness at every plot twist. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco