Since I started reviewing, I have come to appreciate the category romance, one of the few places where the short novel survives. At its best, categories can be little gems, giving the author a chance to examine her characters closely. Lilian Darcy’s Balancing Act is just such a gem.
About a year before Balancing Act starts, Libby McGraw and Brady Buchanan, both single parents, adopted mixed-race babies from the same Vietnamese orphanage. Libby’s little girl was so adorable that she entered her in Parenting Now’s Bright and Beautiful contest…and Colleen won! Her picture, with her proud mother, was printed on the front page of the magazine where Brady’s mother saw it and showed it to her son. They both realized that there was a strong possibility that Colleen was Brady’s daughter’s twin. The article said that Libby lived in Minnesota, so Brady started calling all the McGraws in Minnesota until he found Libby.
The next step was to bring the babies together and do blood tests to determine if they were twins. However, when Brady arrived on Libby’s doorstep in St. Paul, and the babies were face to face, both Brady and Libby knew that the blood tests would only be a formality. Colleen and Scarlett were identical in every detail. Their next questions were, Is it right to raise twins five hundred miles apart? Shouldn’t they grow up together?
Brady owned a construction company in Columbus, Ohio, where his mother also lived. Libby, on the other hand, was a nursery school teacher, with no relatives in St. Paul. Her mother lived in Chicago, and her parents-in-law had estranged themselves after her husband died, apparently offended by her adoption of Colleen. Before the end of that first weekend together, Brady and Libby had arrived at an answer: Libby and Colleen should move to Columbus. Brady had room to put them up temporarily, until Libby could find a job and an apartment. Three weeks later Libby and Colleen are in Columbus, and Libby and Brady are facing the challenge of their life as they try to arrive at a comfortable relationship.
Re-reading my synopsis of the plot, my initial reaction is to snort, “Yeah, right. Only in a romance!” but Ms. Darcy makes most of it work through her characterizations of Libby and Brady. (I had a little trouble with the Bright and Beautiful contest – Libby seemed too concerned with privacy and security issues to enter her baby in such a contest, no matter how proud she felt.) Both were deeply committed to giving their babies the best possible life, even if it meant sacrifices on their parts.
Libby had been widowed for four years when she adopted, Brady’s wife died shortly after they brought Scarlett home, but neither marriage had been ideal. Libby married a controlling man whom the 19-year-old Libby perceived as caring, but by the time she was approaching 30, she knew better. It wasn’t until she cared for Glenn during his final illness that they arrived at some sort of emotional parity.
Brady’s wife died when the car her lover was driving crashed. Brady hadn’t realized that Stacy was having an affair, but that had just been the latest, and worst, in a series of deceptions.
Both Brady and Libby brought the techniques they’d developed from their marriages to their new relationship and, curiously, both techniques were similar. Since Glenn rode roughshod over Libby’s ideas, she learned to keep her opinions and decisions to herself, whenever possible. Because Stacy fooled him time and again, with evasions and out-right lies, Brady got in the habit of not confronting her until he was sure of all his facts. So in Balancing Act you have a woman who won’t talk about anything important to herself and a man who won’t push her to share. The drama…the very real drama…in Balancing Act arises from watching these two try to build a relationship in spite of the harmful habits they carry forward from their marriages. The future of two children hangs on their ability to do so.
Ms. Darcy’s skill and sensitivity in depicting Brady and Libby’s struggles to make their relationship work raised Balancing Act to ‘gem’ status for me. Any deficiencies in the story line – and there weren’t many – are overcome by Ms. Darcy’s sympathetic depiction of two strangers trying to make a family.
--Nancy J. Silberstein