REVIEW: Espresso in the Morning by Dorie Graham
Dear Ms. Graham:
I struggled writing this review because so few romance books feature characters with mental illness. One thing our society doesn’t do very well is accept mental illness as an ordinary and acceptable illness. People can have cancer or colds, broken limbs or broken hearts. Some heroes can suffer from PTSD or maybe a slight case of Aspergers but for the most part, our heroes and, particularly our heroines, cannot be mentally ill. Even worse, if the person suffers a trauma in life, these traumas are cured by love, as if therapy or medication is somehow too pitiful to be connected to protagonist in a romance novel. (This isn’t universally true, of course, as some popular books like Sylvia Day’s Bared to You series features therapy for both characters as well as medication for the male protag)
Claire Murphy suffers from severe case of PTSD as a result of a rape and assault in her home by a neighbor of her mothers. It sounds like she never reported it. She tried to tell her mother and her mother denied that this could ever happen. Claire cannot be alone in her house. Silences scares her. To ameliorate her feelings of anxiety and fear, she spends as little time at home as possible and when she is at home, she cranks heavy metal music loud and obsessively checks the locks on her windows and doors. Sometimes she has debilitating panic attacks where she will curl up into a fetal ball. All this might be manageable if Claire did not have a 10 year old son who is suffering with her.
Their non stop schedule and late night music is exhausting for her son Grey. One morning during their habitual visit to the coffee shop, Grey spies an espresso machine and asks the owner if he can buy it. Grey believes that perhaps his mother won’t need to go to the coffee house every morning if she had the ability to make espresso at home. Lucas Williams, the owner, offers Grey an installment plan as the unit is too expensive for Grey to buy. Grey doesn’t understand why his mother has to be in constant motion, why she can’t sleep, what brings on her panic attacks. It scares and worries him.
Lucas sees Claire as a woman in need and he wonders if he can help her. He lost his best friend to a suicide after the war. He aches for Claire’s emotional pain and connects quickly with Grey. The story is told through the point of view of Claire, Grey and Lucas. Claire has moments of lucidity wherein she realizes that she is beset by PTSD, but mostly she cannot deal with remembering the incident and thus avoids any possible treatment. She gets angry when Grey accuses her of not being normal and she bristles at anyone’s suggestion that she needs help. She refuses to go to a therapist.
The most poignant moments are when Grey narrates the story. He loves his mother desperately and his artless requests to stay at home are painful for the reader. He doesn’t understand what is driving her and he longs for normalcy.
Lucas vacillates between wanting to help Claire and to wanting to run away because he’s not sure a relationship with someone who is suffering severely with the same mental illness suffered by his deceased best friend.
The depiction of PTSD was believable and emotionally I was caught in the drama of Claire, Grey and Lucas. But Grey’s situation took a back seat to the romance. For much of the story, I was hoping for Lucas to stay with Grey and Claire because Grey so desperately needed and wanted Lucas in their lives.
But the way that the story unspooled and ended was unsatisfactory. It ended at the beginning of a journey and I wasn’t at all convinced of an HEA particularly with Claire’s resistance to getting help. The three of them look to be headed for an endless cycle of denial and drama until Claire truly decides that she needs to take action and face what is killing her. C-