|Allison Leigh does a nice job of bringing this story full circle without relying on theatrics and hysterics. A Montana Homecoming has enough built-in melodrama and a very tortured heroine without more being added. Yet, this story is also one of hope and it did engage me while I was reading.
Laurel Runyun has quite a history. Her childhood was as normal as it could be with an alcoholic mother and a father that didn’t seem to care, but who was a good provider. Laurel grew up having a heavy crush on Shane Golightly, and when she was 18, she and Shane spent one dreamy night making love in a neighbor’s barn loft. Shane was a little older and his feelings for Laurel scared him. As it happens, that same night, Laurel’s father was accused of killing her mother. Laurel had a nervous breakdown and ended up in a psychiatric hospital. Shane and Laurel have not seen each other in the twelve years since. Laurel has returned to the town of Lucius, Montana to bury her father, who had all charges dropped for lack of evidence, despite everyone’s belief that he was guilty.
Shane is now the sheriff of Lucius. He owns the big new house up on the hill overlooking the Runyun’s rundown house. He and Laurel must confront their past and the fact that they both hurt each other. Laurel must deal with her childhood, especially the fact that she cannot remember the events of that night beyond the time that Shane dropped her off at her house without a kiss and saying he was leaving her and the town to seek his future. Laurel, in addition, has to put her life together. She came to Lucius after breaking off her wedding to a man who was nice, but whom she did not love. She needs a job since she had quit her previous job as a schoolteacher, thinking she would be traveling with her new husband. And she has to decide what to do with the house, a place that gives her nightmares and in which she has trouble sleeping.
This story was engaging, primarily due to the unrest of each character and the uncertainty of what the future could hold once all the secrets of the past are unveiled. But this is not a story for everyone. Laurel is like a wounded animal. She is at times angry, scared, withdrawn, nervous and courageous. Shane too has his moments of angst, although most of his issues revolve around his feelings for Laurel and his sense of guilt that he didn’t prevent her from entering that house all those years ago. That night influenced his choice of career.
This tale is completely character driven and boy, are they driven. It is a story that could have been reduced to generating tears and meltdowns. Instead, the author delves into their psyches and it is this that makes the fascination with the tragedy complete. Laurel, who is almost always sad, is also a character with depth. Shane is sympathetic, yet he doesn’t resort to macho man tactics or loss of emotionalism. While the story has plenty of melodrama, the two characters seem realistic in their responses and interactions.
A Montana Homecoming is richer because of the neighbors who act like neighbors without the often customary small town hard sell. Shane’s family are supportive without being smothering; the neighbors are interested in letting Laurel show them who she is now that she is all grown up and they give her the benefit of the doubt; something she doesn’t give herself all the time. This allows Laurel to discover her talents again and begin to believe she is a valuable person. This is a necessary step before she can open herself to Shane’s love again.
Overall, Leigh creates an atmosphere that allows Laurel and Shane to heal and then to grow into a more mature relationship. That skill is what sets A Montana Homecoming apart from the average category romance.