It Is Well

Written by James D. Shipman
Review by Waheed Rabbani

In 1939 in a cemetery in Snohomish, Washington, Jonathan Beecher stands mournfully at the burial of his wife, who has died of cancer at 38. Among his family huddled around him are his eldest son, Matthew; a second son, Luke; and the youngest, 15-year-old Mary. Matthew decides to take a job with a contractor on Wake Island, and Jonathan has to rely heavily on help from Luke and Mary to operate his hardware store. In 1941, following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Luke, ignoring Jonathan’s dictates, enlists in the Army and is eventually sent to Europe. Meanwhile, Jonathan’s business suffers when Mary elopes with a policeman who mistreats her. The news of Japan’s occupation of Wake Island and the war raging in Europe adds to Jonathan’s despair. He survives by getting further involved in church activities and finds himself attracted to a kind and gentle widow, Sarah. While Jonathan ponders about his children’s fates, he is most troubled about keeping the promise he’d made to his dying wife.

From the novel’s title, it’s evident that this is a story of overcoming grief in the face of calamity. James Shipman has thoughtfully composed the title from Horatio Spafford’s amazing hymn, “It Is Well with My Soul.” Spafford had experienced real family tragedy, and so does Jonathan in this novel. Jonathan’s and Sarah’s faith in God, which carries them through their periods of despair, is brought out vividly. It might lead us to examine our own beliefs. The battle combat sequences on Wake Island and in Europe, while informative and graphic as if on a movie screen, are lengthy at times. Matthew’s and Luke’s characters could have been developed a bit more to keep us engrossed in their storylines. An interesting read.