REVIEW: A Place Called Home by Jo Goodman
Dear Ms. Goodman:
I am a huge fan of your work and there is rarely a book in your bibliography I haven’t responded favorably to. I’ve even lamented about the fact that your work doesn’t seem to be getting the proper attention. I am also a fan of the langourous fashion in which some of your books unspool, like a beautifully crafted scroll slowly unwinding.
However A Place Called Home takes langourous storytelling to new levels and the unwinding was so slow that I felt like I had only moved a few millimeters after 100 pages. Mitchell Baker and Thea Wyndham are thrown together when their friends die and leave them the guardians of three children. Neither Mitch or Thea want to be the parents. Mitch is close to proposing to his girlfriend and Thea is engaged to a wealthy older man. Mitch proposes a shared custodial situation whereas Thea wants to visit. Thea resists heavily and Mitch reluctantly agrees to be the primary care provider.
Mitchell and Thea have been pushed together several times by their friends but neither bit. However, Thea hasn’t been immune to Mitch. She’s always been uncomfortable around him because her attraction to him made her uncomfortable.
Mitch’s relationship with his girlfriend, Gina, is strained when he takes on three children. He doesn’t have time to date her or bed her. Thea begins to reexamine her relationship with her fiance Joel. She doesn’t love him and likely he doesn’t love her but they are comfortable together.
In many ways, I felt that this was more mainstream fiction than romance because the focus isn’t the relationship between Mitch and Thea but their coping with becoming unexpected parents and growing into responsibilities they weren’t prepared for. For Mitch, there is no longer any sleeping in, there is dealing with a depressed and distraught preteen eleven year old girl and twin boys. No longer thinking of himself first and everyone else second. No sexy Gina in his bed. Mitch learns how to be a dad in a matter of days and weeks instead of years. For Thea it is just coping and coming to terms with her secret (why this was hidden for so long is a mystery to me and I think aided the unreasonably slow unwinding of the story). Thea perhaps because of her problems is more understanding and more patient than Mitch and thus turns out to be more adept at parenting than Mitch.
The story starts picking up speed around page 100 or so and honestly if I hadn’t been a fan of your work in the past, I doubt I would have made it this far. The dialogue of the story is smart and the emotions are strong and thoughtful.
“I’m apologizing. Again.”
Thea smiled. “I’m not keeping score.”
“Not on the number of apologies,” she said. “I like to judge them in terms of form and contrition.”
“How’d I do?”
“Not bad. I give it a seven.”
He laughed. “I hope that’s on a ten scale. I lost points for my late delivery, didn’t I?”
She nodded. “You appeared properly abashed but there was a certain lack of responsibility in your language.”
Max and Thea’s respect for each other deepens, bonded by their loss and gain and their new mistakes and triumphs. The attraction that likely simmered between them for ten years is given full release.
Yet the ending was so conventional, particularly as it relates to the jilted fiances. How Harlequin, I thought (no offense Harlequin). Then there was the triteness associated with some of the sexual situations (Thea had never been able to orgasm with someone before Mitch).
Thea is a complicated heroine and one not written about often. I recall a Kathleen Gilles Seidel book featuring a country singer who had a pill problem but female protagonists don’t often have these types of problems. From the outside Thea may have looked perfect. Gina, Mitch’s girlfriend, envied Thea’s glossy perfection but the Thea that the readers know is a tentative, scared, and uneasy person who is so afraid to love anyone who she thinks she could hurt that she copes by staying away. Both Thea and Mitch were portrayed as flawed and vulnerable, both learning to be better than even their own expectations. In the end, despite my problems in the beginning, it was a charming romance. Too bad about the slow pacing and the triteness of some of the plot points. C+