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Susannah’s Garden by Debbie Macomber
(Mira, $23.95, G) ISBN 07783-2302-1
***
Debbie Macomber is a master at writing about small towns and families who meld together to form lifelong relationships with all the joys and sorrows attached. Susannah’s Garden one of those novels, but it is much less a romance than a reaffirmation of life’s choices as one woman reaches middle age. While I enjoyed it on the one hand, it was not the romance I was looking for, nor was there much action…it was character driven completely.

Susannah Nelson is almost 50 years old, has two almost-grown children and a husband of 25 years. Now all of a sudden, following her father’s death, she has been dreaming about Jake Presley, her boyfriend from high school. She and Jake were an item until Susannah was shipped off to France to prep school by her domineering father, who was a judge and had a reputation to maintain. Jake was the poor boy from the wrong side of town and not someone he wanted Susannah to hook up with. Shortly after that Susannah’s brother Doug was killed in an auto accident. Susannah has held bad feelings for her father because he never let her come home for the funeral. Now Susannah wonders if her father had anything to do with Jake’s dumping her. She also has to deal with her elderly mother, who is getting senile and is not able to stay in her house anymore.

So Susannah travels from Seattle to Colville, Washington, to get her mother settled in an assisted living place, to pack up the house and all the belongings and to find out what happened to Jake. Her husband Joe is a dentist and cannot get away. Chrissie, her 20- year-old daughter, is fresh from her freshman year in college and is nursing a broken heart. She ends up in Colville to help her mother. But she finds herself attracted to a boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Will history repeat itself? Will Jake enter Susannah’s life and still the restlessness she has been feeling? Can Susannah put her father’s ghost to rest? What secrets will Susannah uncover as she goes through her childhood things and her father’s papers? What will happen to Susannah’s marriage as she goes through this mid-life crisis?

All these answers and more are provided in the 350 pages of this novel. Some of the answers are more compelling than others. Some of the questions breed other questions and there is even a small mystery. Susannah is certain someone is breaking into the house and stealing things…little things like her brother’s trophies and her father’s journal. The whole story might have been more interesting if I could have felt more empathy with Susannah. But I couldn’t. She is a successful teacher, wife, and mother who suddenly starts yearning for the guy who dumped her 30 years ago. There was no reason for this, except she is a little depressed and feeling restless. Susannah is a bit whiny (a trait I have a difficult time with in any heroine) and many times, is filled with self-pity. Her best friend, Carolyn, is a bit more interesting, running the local mill and ready to have an affair with the new drifter in town. This is really the only romance and it is very tenuous, consisting of some hot looks and a couple of kisses.

There were parts of the story that engaged me, especially towards the end when many of the mysteries were getting solved. But I struggled through the beginning and middle, often times not really wanting to pick up the book once I had put it down. That is never a good sign and one that is not usual when I am reading a Macomber.

Susannah’s Garden has pretty flowers, but really needs a lot of tending to bring forth enjoyment. It is not one of Macomber’s best efforts, and at $23.95, only worth borrowing from the library or waiting until the paperback comes out.

--Shirley Lyons


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