The category romance is one of the last bastions of the short novel, a form of which I'm particularly fond. At its best, the short novel is lean, with a strong structure. Every scene counts, every sentence is needed to tell the story. The Baby Quilt is such a novel, an economical delight from beginning to end.
Justin Sloan comes from a family of high-powered Boston lawyers. Repelled by his parents' chilly marriage, he moved west, to Chicago, where he has just made partner in one of the country's most prestigious law firms. On this Saturday morning Justin
decides that a day-long fishing trip will help him fight the edginess he has been feeling lately.
Unfortunately, the day isn't working out well. His car has broken down out in the middle of nowhere, his cell phone is back in his Chicago condo, and a storm is brewing. Nothing for it, Justin decides, but to hike ten miles to the nearest town even though it means getting soaked. He is relieved to find a farmhouse over the first hill where he can make a call or get a jump for his dead battery.
As he gets nearer to the farmhouse, Justin can see a young woman trying frantically to get her bedding plants into a greenhouse before the rain starts. As he helps her carry her flats into the greenhouse, the rain changes to hail, then the wind drops for an instant before hitting them "like backwash from a jet." A tornado roars toward them.
As Justin tries to hurry the young woman into the house, she dashes back to the greenhouse and grabs the baby carrier, and the baby, she had left there. The tornado is upon them before they reach the cellar door. The wind is so strong that Justin is barely able to pry the door to the cellar open, and when he does, the tornado rips it completely off. The three of them tumble into the relative safety of the cellar and huddle there until the tornado passes.
In approaching Emily Miller for help, Justin has inadvertently looked for assistance where he is least likely to find it. Recently widowed, Emily was raised as Old Order Amish, and although she no longer lives in an Amish community, she still follows the Amish ways. She has no tractor and no car that Justin can use to jump-start his engine; she doesn't have a telephone he can use to call a gas station. Her house doesn't have electricity; what it does have now is a large tree limb sticking through the kitchen window.
The tornado has brought two people together who would ordinarily never have met, whose lives are almost unimaginably different and yet who each need what the other has to offer. At the most fundamental level, Justin can remove Emily's tree from her window and mend her porch, while Emily can connect Justin with babies, feed him home-cooked meals, and offer an outsider's view of the life he leads.
Make no mistake about it: The Baby Quilt is a story about Emily and Justin and their friendship and growing attraction to each other. Flynn has not complicated her story with a mystery, another natural disaster, or even that tried-and-true romance device, a big misunderstanding. Instead, this romance seems to take the only route possible, with any obstacles arising organically from the characters and life styles of the people involved.
I read The Baby Quilt over a weekend, slowly, trying to make it last. I know I will read it again. When I feel harried by the city life I usually love, I can retreat to the countryside, the quiet life, and the two engaging people Flynn presents so convincingly in The Baby Quilt.
--Nancy J. Silberstein