Grace has taken care of her widowed father her entire adult life and the ornery old goat has finally died. She has no job, no skills and very little money, and has heard her father’s prediction that no decent man would ever want her so often she accepts it as fact.
But she does have a big old house on Lawyers Row in Peacock, Tennessee. She opens a rooming house and quickly gathers a motley crew of tenants: Promise, Grace’s best friend since kindergarten, who’s fighting cancer; Maxie, an aging soap opera actress who hasn’t lost her flair for the dramatic; Jonah, a sweet, gullible old man with a crush on Maxie.
And Dillon, Grace’s brother’s best friend, who stood her up on the night of her senior prom and has regretted it ever since. Dillon rents Grace’s guest house for the summer and hopes to make up for lost time and past hurts—but first, he’ll have to convince Grace that she’s worth loving.
I read lots and lots of books! Reading is my hobby and writing reviews for this and my own blog has become a source of real enjoyment. I really like most of the books I read and find joy and worth in most of them. Once in a while, however, a book comes along that is, for me, “off the charts.” This book is one of them. I was happy to read it because I had read one or two of this author’s previous books but when I got into it, I was literally “blown away.”
This book is about one woman–her family, her history, her hurts and disappointments, her loves and her loyalties. It is several stories all rolled up into one and yet they all converge to make up a beautiful and compelling collage that wove its magic around my mind and spirit. I remember attending an early showing of the movie “Dr. Zhivago” with my grandmother back in the late 60’s. Anyone who has seen that film will testify that both the scenes, the scope of the historical context, and the ongoing tragedy of one man’s life are almost overwhelming. I know that when I returned home I sat in my favorite chair for several hours just trying to wrap my mind around the reality of how much that good man had experienced within a political framework that ended up tragically. I almost had that same kind of sense when I finished this novel–not about the ending, but about the almost overwhelming load that life and people had heaped on this woman.
Grace’s mother had died of heart failure when she was 12, and from that day on, her abusive and angry dad had removed any joy from her life. He slowly but surely convinced her that she was plain, dumb, useless for anything but grunt work, hopelessly flawed in every way that would recommend her to anyone else, uneducated and unprepared for any kind of life occupation other than taking care of him. Even then, his cruelty exceeded every parental boundary, and he was not mourned by her at all–something else that made her wonder about herself. Yet Grace continued to care for people who she believed needed her, in spite of her sense of having been cheated out of any kind of future. Even the one young man who she carried closest in her heart it appears didn’t want her–he never showed up for their date to her prom. Grace’s siblings did indeed love her, but even they were scarred by their dad’s cruelty and his version of all things having to do with her. So in the weeks and months after his death, new information and new versions of reality began reappearing, some in ways that made Grace’s world tilt on its axis. Add in the fact that her very best friend, her soul-sister in every respect, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Their comraderie, their banter, Grace’s efforts to keep life and joy and wit alive for her friend, are some of the most endearing aspects of this book.
And Dillon did re-appear after 15 years as a news writer and war correspondent, now renting her guest house for the summer as he is writing his sixth novel. As Grace’s old flame and best friend to her brother, Dillon was again a part of the scene that surrounded this amazing woman. And it was Dillon who realized that Grace was a beautiful, extraordinary, gifted, loving woman and one who had not the slightest idea that such was the case. In the process of trying to get the “real” Grace to the surface, Dillon had to face some of his old “dragons” as well.
This is a messy book just like all human life is messy. It is probably one of the funniest books I have read recently but it is also one of the few books that put me in tears as well. Grace’s deep wounds are palpable to the reader, but the author doesn’t leave you there. I have read several reviews of this book that claim there is no happy ending. I don’t agree AT ALL. Life seldom gives “happy endings” because as Grace discovered, life isn’t like a novel or a fun story. It just keeps evolving and people have to accept and make of it the best they can. Perhaps for some this will be one of those “slow” stories. There is no hot eroticism here but there is definitely a sense of sexual tension and deep loving. If the reader will be patient and keep on keeping on, this story is one of those that just keeps getting richer and richer. I admit I was sorry to see it end. Of all the characters, I think the saddest of all is Grace’s brother–a brilliant cardiac surgeon who hasn’t quite got it all figured out yet. I would be interested to know if you agree or if not, what your thoughts are.
Don’t miss this one. It is one of those “over the top” and a best of the best kind of books. You owe it to yourself to read it!
I give it a rating of 5 out of 5 and wish it could be more.
You can read more from Judith at Dr J’s Book Place.