REVIEW: Off The Map by Trish Doller
Content notes: dementia and
Dear Trish Doller,
Readers first met Carla Black and Eamon Sullivan in Float Plan where Carla’s best friend, Anna, and Eamon’s brother, Keane, found their HEA. Now, Anna and Keane are getting married. The wedding is in Ireland and Carla has flown from Florida to Dublin where she will meet up with Eamon and they will travel together to Tralee where the nuptials are to take place. Tralee is only about a 3 hour drive from Dublin but it takes Carla and Eamon significantly longer to reach their destination. Yes, that’s right: road trip!
Carla and Anna worked at the same pirate-themed pub in Fort Lauderdale. Anna was a waitress and Carla was behind the bar. Carla’s mother left when she was 5 and since then, it was only her and her dad, Biggie Black. (She calls her dad Biggie, like everyone else does.) Biggie was a teacher and every summer he and Carla would take off and go travelling. They went to most of the national parks in the contiguous United States, as well as taking some trips outside the country too. 8 years before the book begins, Biggie was diagnosed with early onset dementia (he was 40 when Carla was born) and announced he wasn’t going to be travelling with Carla in the summers anymore. He didn’t want her to see him decline and forget her so he told her not to stay. Acceding to his wishes, Carla has not seen him since then apart from on FaceTime. Some days he remembers her, others he doesn’t. (I admit this part confused me a little. If she was seeing him over FaceTime what’s the difference between that and going for a visit?)
As much as travelling is in Carla’s blood and she loves the adventure of it, there are also other things about the activity which are more coping mechanism and/or excuse and over the course of the book she comes to realise those things and work through them.
Eamon was a bit of a scene-stealer in Float Plan (as much as I adore Keane – and I still do) and he seemed very lonely back then so I was very happy to see him finally get his HEA. He and Carla hit it off right away when they meet. Possibly it helps that she kisses him before introductions. (It involves another guy hitting on her and Eamon was surprised, but willing.) But they talk for hours and it’s too late to drive to Tralee so they stay at his apartment – and hook up.
One of the ways that Off the Map differs from both Float Plan and The Suite Spot is that there is a lot more sex. It’s not particularly more explicit, but it’s certainly more frequent. It’s a signifier. Carla has a fairly casual attitude to physical intimacy. A fling is fun and so is sex. Generally, emotions aren’t a part of it. But it’s different with Eamon. The growth of their relationship is shown in multiple ways but one of them is via the sex they have. It’s both fun and connective and while gentle and loving, Eamon won’t let her hide. It’s fitting for the book and the characters.
Eamon has been unhappy in his life. He has baggage related to expectations from his mother and trying to live up to them. But he longs for travel and adventure too. When he meets Carla he sees in her all the things he wants to be. Eamon needs a bit more of a safety net than Carla does but she encourages him to take a step in the direction he wants to go. And so instead of going straight to Tralee, they go camping in the Wicklow Mountains. (It’s okay, they have days and days before the wedding.).
Carla helps Eamon see how he can have the life of adventure he wants and challenges him to stop making excuses and just do it. As he says, she has the “tactfulness of a machete” but she’s not wrong.
As they travel to the wedding, Carla thinks more and more about her dad and going home to be with him and spend time before he forgets her altogether. To help him and his wife (they married after Biggie and Carla stopped travelling together but had been dating beforehand) as they navigate his illness. To stop running from messy emotions.
There was one guy Carla met in Mexico some years earlier who was special but Carla didn’t let herself stay. With Eamon she’s very tempted but the pull to her dad cannot be denied. And she does not wish for Eamon to put his dreams on hold any longer.
I read Off the Map in one day. It felt shorter to me than the other books but Goodreads tells me the page count is basically the same as the other books in the series. I don’t often have a whole day to read but I had a cold so I was confined to the couch with a book for company. It made me feel better and took my mind off my woes.
While Eamon had a character arc in the story, most of the growth comes from Carla. Eamon is far more than a cipher or a sidekick however. Carla has to come to grips with her mother’s abandonment and the ongoing and pending loss of her father. She fears she is destined to get dementia too and she’s afraid to love for fear of losing it.
Eamon is steadfast but adventurous. He’s funny and charming and loyal and spontaneous. He may take a second or two longer to think about the logistics of a plan and he does like to have a backup just in case, but he’s more than a match for Carla. And through Eamon, Carla learns that travelling with just a backpack and nothing else is just one way of doing it and maybe it’s time to change things up a bit.
I liked the way the relationship played out. I liked the maturity of their conversations and their actions. I liked that there wasn’t any artificial blow up for the sake of drama. I wonder if some people will find the story lacking in conflict but for me, it had just the right amount.
“How are you still single?” I ask, for the third time since we’ve met, making him smile.
“Because you’re not mine yet.”