REVIEW: Unexpected Family by Molly O’Keefe
Dear Ms. O’Keefe:
Grief stories have to be one of the more difficult stories to write. After all, grief stories can often rely on low hanging fruit using a death as the easy emotion evoker making the story seem manipulative instead of touching. However, there isn’t anything easy about the lives of Lucy Alatore or Jeremiah Stone. Lucy’s life was on the upswing, her one of a kind jewelry catching the eye of movie stars and other rich and famous people. When she makes a rookie business person mistake, Lucy’s entire career gets flushed and she runs to her family home in Northern California. She’s not sure how to remake herself and her mother is acting strange and her sister’s newly found bliss is rubbing her the wrong way.
Jeremiah Stone’s promising rodeo career was ended by an injury but his worse loss was when his sister and brother in law died and left Jeremiah the guardian of his nephews. Jeremiah doesn’t know how to parent three boys, let alone ones that are suffering their own grief. He’s so far removed from his star filled life that even Lucy doesn’t recognize him:
“Are you…” It was just so weird to think of Jeremiah Stone as the guardian of three small boys.
Jeremiah Stone was a cowboy sex symbol. He got interviewed on ESPN, and that footage of him getting trampled by a bull had been a YouTube sensation. He dated beautiful country music stars, and did not, definitely did not, fold superhero underwear.
Jeremiah and Lucy are both suffering from loss, both experiencing grief. For Jeremiah, it’s the loss of his sister, but also the loss of his independence and his dreams. He sees a counselor and at one point she asks him if he has grieved.
“For my sister? Yeah. Of course.” Cried like a baby through her funeral. Boxed up her clothes and sobbed. Had to call Cynthia to help him.
“No. Have you grieved for your old life? For the rodeo? For the life you lived before you took over caring for the boys?”
His stomach dropped and his brain felt too light. His skin painfully tight. Panicked, suddenly shaking with adrenaline, he glanced up at the clock.
“Time’s up, Dr. Gilman.”
He didn’t stop. Didn’t listen. He grabbed his hat from the stand by the door and slipped out the door. But his stomach stayed in his leaden legs and his skin itched like it wanted to come off.
The realism and authenticity of the characters and their emotions permeates every page. I felt that the easy path was avoided but without making the story drag. A common romance trope would have had Jeremiah be the strong silent type that simply works out his feelings through the love of a good woman, Lucy, who comes in and bakes the most awesome meal, complete with a pie for dessert while handing out sage phrases that heal the wounded souls of each child. This was not that book. Lucy is not instinctively great at parenting. Her presence actually makes the older child uneasy.
I liked that Jeremiah was seeking help. It didn’t emasculate him, but portrayed the helplessness of his situation – a bachelor with three growing boys. I liked Lucy’s frank appreciation of Jeremiah and her ineptness at mothering and her missing her life in LA. I would have liked Lucy’s arc to have been less reliant on her feelings for Jeremiah. Even her newfound creativity seemed based on her attraction to Jeremiah. Perhaps that is authentic, in and of itself, but I would have liked to have seen Lucy’s renewal be somewhat separate.
The transition from bachelor to father isn’t easy for Jeremiah and it isn’t easy for the children. They are lost, sad, and angry. Lucy doesn’t come in and magically save the day. But as Lucy says, “who wants easy?”
Jeremiah laughed, pressing his forehead to hers. “It won’t be easy,” he said, as if warning her.
She wrapped her arms around his neck, holding on as tight as she could. The ride would be bumpy, no doubt about it. But she couldn’t imagine anything more fun, more exciting, more fulfilling, than taking this ride with Jeremiah and his boys.
“Who wants easy?”
The secondary romance between Lucy’s mother and the alcoholic father of the ranch owner where Lucy’s mother kept house was interesting but subdued but my focus was on Jeremiah and Lucy. B+