Dear Ms. Krotow:
Sometimes the stories about kids trying to get their single parents hooked up with another person can be cute (Parent Trap! Sleepless in Seattle!) and other times, it can be totally treacly. This book was neither cute nor saccharine but instead made me want to scream and throw my ebook reader across the room. Why? Because the hero drove me insane and not in a good way.
Claire Renquist and Dutch Archer were high school sweethearts who found themselves drifting apart at the end of their high school days. Claire wanted to go forth and conquer the world andDutch wanted to stay in their hometown, become a vet, get married and have kids. One weekend while Claire was on an academic trip, her best friend’s twin died. Dutch went over to comfort the sister, Natalie, and ended up having sex with her. It’s unclear to me what exactly transpired after that night but Claire eventually moved away and Dutch and Natalie went to the local state college. Claire maintained (or tried) to maintain a close relationship with Natalie and during her college years, Claire was able to keep up the pretense of being unaffected by Dutch and Natalie’ s relationship but when Dutch and Natalie announced their plans to get married followed closely by the birth of their daughter, Sasha, Claire could no longer bear the pain of seeing the happy family unit. Even though Claire had found fulfillment in her job as a national news reporter, she had never gotten over her love for Dutch.
Natalie fell ill and died but during her protacted illness, Claire did not come back to visit. Their relationship had been strained and Claire felt more comfortable in the battlefield of Iraq, reporting on wars and the fall of governments around the world until one day it became too much for her. She packs everything up and returns to her hometown and begins a llama farm.
Natalie and Dutch’s daughter, Sasha, takes an interest in Claire and Claire sees this as a way to repay her deceased friend. Sasha begins coming over to the llama farm and Claire shares stories of her and Sasha’s mom when they were kids. Sasha absorbs each word like its a grain of gold.
This causes a great deal of concern for Dutch. His view of Claire has been negative ever since she decided she wanted something bigger than their hometown could offer. He characterizes her as a “leaver” and doesn’t want her around Sasha. At this point, Claire has been living in the hometown for 2 years and owns a fricking llama farm but because she left him when they were teens, she was still a leaver. She left him physically and she left him emotionally. She was in the wrong and only until she acknowledged it would they ever be able to move beyond the past.
Plus, she is emotionally unavailable. She wouldn’t come back and visit Natalie even when she was sick. Some kind of friend, he thinks. Sasha, he, and Natalie all needed Claire but she was never there. Claire is selfish and self centered.
I wanted to reach into the book to choke him. Never once did he acknowledge that his emotional and physical betrayal was simply too much for Claire. That maybe, just maybe, Claire felt supremely uncomfortable around his perfect family unit that clearly excluded her in a very tangible way. He expected her to come crawling back to him. She was the bad person for not abasing herself enough.
I kept waiting for that moment wherein the hero would have a moment of self enlightenment and say “self, I’ve been a real asshole” and then go and grovel. One moment where he would acknowledge that he felt physical and emotional need for this woman and maybe that was why he was was so angry. Instead, the hero maintained his myopic self righteous view of the world to the very end. He realizes that she is no longer a leaver and that she is good for him and his daughter because SHE HAS CHANGED. That’s right. Dutch’s storyline is flat. He never changes because he doesn’t have to. Claire comes to him.
What makes Dutch’s egoism even more unbearable is the careful introspection that Claire undertakes. Older, wiser, Claire looks back and realizes that she left the door open for Dutch and Natalie to come together because Claire was pulling away. She regrets the rift that she allowed to develop between herself and Natalie. She wishes that she had been more honest with Natalie about the depths of Claire’s feeling for Dutch. She treasures the moments with Sasha, a precious combination of the two people that she has loved most in this world. Most of all, Claire finds contentment. She has changed and has become, in her mind, a better, happier person.
The juxtaposition between Claire’s self actualization and Dutch’s shameless and selfish embrace of his narcissism made Dutch all the more unbearable. If I could have kicked him in the nuts, I would have. It was one of those books where you wished that something bad would happen to one of the protagonists. Like I wished that you would have killed him off and Claire and Sasha would have found someone else to be part of their family unit. C-