REVIEW: Stranger at the Door by Laura Abbot
Dear Ms. Abbot,
This is an interesting mixture of contemporary and historical romance. Though I still have a hard time with the idea that stories set before the turn of the 21st century are considered “historical.” I also see this is where Harlequin’s “Everlasting Love” line has ended up.
“Because happily ever after is just the beginning.”
That certainly applies to Sam and Izzy and you drop us right into a crisis which will test their HEA. Izzy fondly imagines that Sam has always been faithful to her despite the ups and downs and separations of their married life. She’s rudely jerked out of her idyllic belief when a young man claiming to be Sam’s illegitimate son arrives on her doorstep. “WTF?” she thinks. Okay, maybe Izzy wouldn’t use that term but she’s definitely floored by what’s going on here. And she’s got some pointed questions to ask Sam when he gets home from their daughter’s house.
Except Sam stonewalls the discussion and announces he needs time to think. Yeah and he’s going to do that at a friend’s cabin in another state. I’m thinking Sam’s an asshole here. But then I’ve not been married to him for over forty years as Izzy has and don’t have a vested interest. So poor Izzy now has to deal with two issues: she’s got a husband who strayed then – really there’s no contesting that since Mark looks exactly like Sam – and is denying all knowledge now. And once again Izzy has to tend the home fires by herself.
So while she’s covering for Sam with their daughters, she decides to finally give in to their elder daughter’s request that she write her life story in a journal. It’ll give her time to reflect on why she still loves Sam, despite what he did. Though she ruefully acknowledges that the girls might get an edited version once she’s finished.
Izzy’s journal entries are my favorite parts of the story. The sections of the book dealing with Izzy and her BFF Twink’s childhood remind me a lot of my mother. Small town Southern girls growing up in the 40s/50s. Going to college when the Mrs. Degree was what most women aspired to. Living up, or down, to a small town’s expectations of what a good marriage is. And sex-education is certainly different today!
Izzy’s aborted engagement to a perfectly nice man, just a man who wasn’t The One for her, gives us not only the main source of conflict between Izzy and her mother but also shows why she was willing to elope with the handsome Air Force pilot who swept her off her feet. Nice is okay but when you’ve met the love of your life, nothing less will do. Sam is intelligent, passionate, strong and determined to win this woman. It looks like rainbows and happiness forevuh in spite of every obstacle provided by Air Force life.
That is until a few very important things go wrong and Sam finally gets shipped out to Vietnam. I can understand why he strays. I truly can. I don’t like it but life sucks sometimes. The death of one of their children followed by Sam’s immersion into the “live for the moment and show no fear” environment of an Air Force pilot explains what he did.
But I got tired of Sam running off throughout the book. Izzy is right to call him a coward and nails the fact that he does a runner whenever things go bad. But then who’s the strongest person in this relationship? Is it Sam for facing danger in the skies and being willing to face his nation’s enemies? Or Izzy for waiting at home for him, for making a home all those years when he was away or training, for facing up to what Sam did before he did? There were plenty of times I just wanted to smack Sam.
Three cheers for Izzy telling Sam that a child is not ever “nothing.” I can understand Jenny’s response to learning she has a half-brother. She’s been the one to idolize her father for so long and this news would be hard to handle. I like that Jenny and Lisa aren’t perfect children or adults. That Sam and Izzy’s marriage and Air Force life does affect them growing up and has shaped them as grown women.
I’ve said I appreciate you including some tough subjects here. Infidelity, SIDS, child-parent relationships, views on marriage. And as Izzy reminisces about her life, she doesn’t make them more aware of the issues in their lives than they would have been then. No one is preternaturally “wise.” But her telling of the events of her past allows her to view them through the lens what we know today.
And yet, when Izzy and Sam finally sit down and begin to discuss their problems and issues, I couldn’t help but feel I was watching a Lifetime Movie Network film. Heightened drama, dialogue intended to ensure that all the angst is included but also sounding like something out of a textbook or women’s magazine. Call me picky and I know that all of a book is staged but I don’t want to see too much of an author pulling the strings when I’m supposed to be immersed in the moment.
You tackle some tough subjects here. And I certainly appreciate that. Books which pussyfoot around issues or include them as just superficial window dressings annoy me. I know most of us are in it for the HEA but if authors are going to add these elements to the plot, make them important and relevant. You do both and I thank you. I just wish the overall presentation had worked better for me. B-