REVIEW: A Father at Last by Julie Mac
Dear Ms. Mac:
As a secret baby book, the story must do two things: 1) convince me that keeping the secret justified and 2) that the secret should be kept for an ongoing period of time.
Unfortunately both failed for me. The story starts out with young Kelly Atkinson watching her father be locked behind bars. This prologue is designed to provide the justification for the seven years Kelly kept her son from the man who was his father. Ben Carter was deemed by Kelly as a bad bet and didn’t want her son to suffer the same pain as she did. Of course, he was good enough to sleep with and she refers to him as “her soul mate. Her ex-soul mate.”
She did try to find Ben when her son was a toddler and the few times she found any information suggested that her decision to keep Ben at a distance was wise.
Despite not seeing each other for seven years, Ben and Kelly run into each other near the courthouse as she is taking a break from her obligations as a duty solicitor at the Auckland District Court. (I wasn’t sure what that was, but it sounded like she was a public defender). He pretends to initially not know her but then follows her later to explain that he was running with some bad gang guys and wanted to ensure that unwanted attention wasn’t directed toward her.
It seems fairly apparent from the onset that Ben is likely undercover. Kelly assumes that all her suppositions about where Ben would end up were fulfilled. Even after seven years of absence, Ben confronts her about their one night together so many years ago.
He drew her hand to his chest and leaned his other hand on the lift wall beside her, so that his face was close to hers, the scowl gone. “I tried to contact you, lots of times, after that night we had together.” There was a rough edge to his voice. “I couldn’t find you. I concluded you didn’t feel the same way I did about a replay. Eventually I gave up.”
That sort of talk, albeit relatively unbelievable, does little to help the justifications Kelly will later have to make to justify her silence and then her subsequent ongoing lies. When Ben asks her straight up whether her child is his, she lies, of course, and then proceeds to tell him that even if her son was his, she would never tell him.
Perhaps in an effort to curry reader acceptance of Kelly’s actions, Ben’s response is muted. He understands and isn’t angry. He wants Kelly back and to create a new family. Kelly is resistant because she is afraid of being hurt (see her father’s actions). Ben tries to signal to Kelly that he is not what she presumes. “Maybe I’m a good guy in disguise,” he tells her. Ben’s position requires him to continue with the lie to her, foolishly asking her to believe that he is a decent person despite all the outward evidence to the contrary.
But even beyond my reluctant acceptance of Kelly’s motives was just the writing itself which seemed rather plodding punctuated by melodrama.
Then he looked up, and kicked, but his aim was way off, and instead of heading straight for the other boy, the ball was coming to Ben.
Like an arrow to my heart.
The initial meet in the elevator where Ben bares his soul to Kelly after not seeing her for seven years rang as forced as when Kelly admits that she is afraid of losing him in Chapter Three despite them not actually having any kind of relationship.
Kelly and Ben both have past issues with their fathers which have informed their life. More secrets come out and Kelly, in particular, has to learn to forgive her father in order to move on with Ben. Ben and Kelly keep their secrets from each other for a long while, too long in my opinion.
The low key nature of the storytelling along with the overly dramatic and forced emotional highs came off false. C-