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Coast Road by Barbara Delinsky
(Simon and Schuster, $24.00, PG) ISBN 0-684-84576-8
****
While it is quite clear that Barbara Delinsky has moved outside the romance genre in her most recent books, it is likewise clear that unlike other authors who have made the jump to the mainstream Delinsky has not forgotten her romance roots. Her last book, Three Wishes offered the reader a touching love story, even if it failed the HEA (happily ever after) test. Coast Road, while not exactly a romance in its structure, is nonetheless a touching tale of a second chance at love. (And yes, I admit it; after my experience with Three Wishes, I read the last page before I bought the book.)

Jack McGill and Rachel Keats have been divorced for six years. Rachel, a very talented artist, had left Jack because she felt smothered in San Francisco and because Jack had become so busy with his thriving architectural career that he had no time for her and their two daughters. So when he took one business trip too many, she moved out and settled in Big Sur.

Then, late one night, Jack receives a phone call: Rachel has been in a dreadful automobile accident and his daughters need him. With hardly a hesitation, Jack gets into his car and drives to Monterey. He discovers that Rachel is alive, although her leg and hand are broken. Of greatest concern is the fact that she is in a coma.

Coast Road demonstrates Delinsky's unquestioned talent as a writer. Except for the prologue and the final chapter, Rachel spends the whole book in a coma. Yet we come to know her, primarily through Jack's point of view as he both remembers the good times they shared, reevaluates the problems in their marriage, and rediscovers the woman Rachel has become in the six years they have been apart. Yet, despite the fact that we are rarely "in her head," we understand, appreciate and admire Rachel immensely.

We also come to know Jack very well. We watch a man who is faced with a potential tragedy, and who is forced to reevaluate the whole course of his life. Jack comes to see how he failed Rachel in the past and he must rethink his whole understanding of the end of his marriage. He had always blamed Rachel for walking out on him. Now he comes to understand that he walked out on her emotionally long before she left him physically.

Jack finds himself having to deal with two teenage daughters with all of the potential dangers that entails. Samantha at fifteen is still angry at her father for abandoning her and is trying to deal both with her mother's condition and her own adolescent insecurities. I have a funny feeling that Delinsky's portrayal of a teenage girl is right on (which makes me happy that my teenager is of the male persuasion.) Hope, at thirteen, is sensitive and easily hurt. How can she face loss and tragedy?

Jack must make the transition from weekend, occasional dad to primary caretaker. Problems abound, and if the solutions seem a bit too pat, well, after all, this is fiction.

Mostly what Jack learns is that Rachel is still the most important person in his life. And because Delinsky makes their past come alive, we understand why neither has been able to move on. The question is, of course, what will happen when Rachel regains consciousness.

Delinsky also offers a paean to female friendship in Coast Road. Jack is astounded to discover that once lone wolf Rachel has established warm and deep relationships with a group of women who meet regularly to discuss books and life. These women, and especially Rachel's best friend Katherine, become Jack's entree into Rachel's new life and her old pain.

In my local Borders, Barbara Delinsky's books have been moved from the Romance Section to General Fiction. In one sense, I can understand why. Her most recent books lack the singular focus on the romantic elements in the hero's and heroine's relationships that usually typifies a romance. Her books depart in some ways from the conventions of the genre and are more like what we call "Women's Fiction." Yet Coast Road like all Delinsky's books is clearly the work of a writer who still holds fast to the sensibility of a true romantic. Her many fans who have followed her since her category days will not be disappointed with her latest novel.

--Jean Mason


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