Luke McGuire was the product of one night stand with an Irish rake and Jackie, a very young teenager. In order to punish her, Jackie’s mother made her keep the child. So unwanted, it fell to the nurses to even name him. Jackie’s lifetime cause became the crusade to prevent teen pregnancies. Growing up in this dysfunctional environment jaundiced Luke in many ways. Living down to the expectations of the small California coastal town, he became its nemesis and scapegoat for all acts of petty vandalism, theft, etc.
Leaving town on the day of his high school graduation, just hours before his mother was going to throw him out, Luke departed leaving but only one human connection, David. His mother had remarried and reluctantly had another child. Luke’s half brother, David, idolized him, through the eyes of an eight-year child.
The story starts as 15-year-old David writes Luke and begs to come live with him. His father has recently died, and David is struggling with the fact that his mother seems indifferent to not only his father’s death, but also the needs of her son. Striking out, David has degenerated to a new group of town rowdies for best friends.
His one establishment contact is Amelia Blair, bookstore owner, who had come to the small town with her parents shortly after Luke had left. She is thirty; content with the store she inherited from her parents, and more than willing to be the friend that David seems to need.
When Luke receives the letter, he knows that there is no way the legal authorities would permit him to take David. Nonetheless he returns to the hated small town to check on what really is happening. From the moment he steps foot in town, time rolls back and he again is the tragedy and ruination of his mother. Townspeople even believe that he had spent the last few years in prison.
This book is a testament to the theme that “You Can’t Go Home Again”. The more the townspeople react to him, the more indifferent Luke becomes to their opinions. David introduces him to Amelia, and he is immediately attracted. She is one who makes her own judgments and refuses to live by other people’s values and assessments.
The romance is vintage Justine Davis, wherein she slowly develops the characters and then ignites the passion between them. On the other hand the story portrays life in a small town beautifully. With a few deft strokes, Davis is able to chronicle its prejudices, its resistance to change, and its small mindedness. This is the background of a very pragmatic treatment of the impact of a dysfunctional family life on its members, in the past, in the present and in the future.
Davis weaves these elements into a very realistic story. Neither too smarmy nor too vitriolic, characters that are well developed move about in ordinary settings doing ordinary things. Segues are seamless, dialogue is brisk; the plot is credible and tightly constructed. This is an unexpected and refreshing treatment of an old story line.