I had a paradoxical reaction to Patricia Hagan's My Child, Our Child. I found the story compelling, the hero exasperating. For most of the book, I wanted to slap him upside the head and would have been strongly tempted to act on the impulse, had I been the heroine.
Jackie Lundigan is a dietician at a nursing home in Durham, North Carolina, a job she has always loved. However, her recent separation from her husband has her thinking about making changes in her life.
Jackie is astonished to discover that Libby Pratt, a former resident at the nursing home and a good friend, has left her half a Christmas tree farm because she thought Jackie might want "a 180-degree turnaround" in her life. Jackie takes about five minutes to decide that a move to a cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains is exactly the change she needs.
Sam Colton is the other half-owner of Colton Farms, and he is less than delighted to find himself with a new partner who wants to live on the farm and take an active role in Christmas tree farming. Libby Pratt had owned half of Colton Farms ever since World War II, but she lived and worked in Durham. Once a year Sam's accountant sent Libby a check for her part of the proceeds -- Libby's only involvement with Colton Farms. That was just fine with Sam Colton.
Like Jackie, Sam has a divorce in his recent past. He has custody of his six-year-old son, a child who was severely traumatized by his parents' separation. The divorce and Justin's reaction to it have left Sam unwilling to trust women, especially "flatlander" women.
Jackie and Sam get off on the wrong foot immediately. Jackie meets Sam right after her arrival at Colton Farms, before he has been notified by Libby Pratt's lawyer of Libby's death and the change in ownership. Understandably, he questions her right to be there and immediately contacts the lawyer.
Much less understandably, even after the lawyer has confirmed Jackie's ownership, Sam continues to act as though it is Jackie's fault that she has inherited. Besides blaming Jackie for Libby's actions, he insists, over and over again, that she'll never last through a Blue Ridge Mountains winter.
Beginning with their second acrimonious encounter, Jackie acknowledges to herself that she is somewhat attracted to Sam. I wasn't. This man had an edge on his tongue that would cut wood. Furthermore, I was surprised at how little care he took to insure that a woman living alone, with no telephone and an aged and infirm car, was all right. No matter what he felt, at the very least Sam should have sent one of his men regularly to check that Jackie was safe and unhurt.
Jackie said that she was able to "play psychiatrist and conclude that his arrogance and irritability stemmed from what his wife had done. By doing so she was able to accept his faults…." I wouldn't have been so charitable.
The elements that made this book so readable were Jackie herself -- she came across as the sort of woman whom other women like -- and Jackie's relationship with Sam's son, Justin. Her efforts to help Justin overcome the trauma of his mother's abandonment -- despite Sam's objections -- kept me turning the pages and brought tears to my eyes several times. The genuine emotions evoked by Jackie's efforts to help both Justin and his difficult father are the factors on which I based my four-heart rating.
A word of warning: I do not recommend reading this book on an empty stomach. Jackie is a dietician and obviously loves her work. Before a quarter of the book is over, she has made cheese blitzes, fried ham and biscuits, and an apple pie, "smelling deliciously of butter and cinnamon." Better have those celery and carrot sticks close at hand while you read.
Finally, the publishers have very thoughtfully provided us with a map of North Carolina. A nice touch, indeed, but it would have been even nicer if they had managed to put any of the three places mentioned in My Child, Our Child -- Durham, Boone, and Winston-Salem -- on the map.
--Nancy J. Silberstein