Ah, the traditional ending of a romance novel: hero and heroine discover true love and walk off into the sunset. Oh, perhaps there’s a short epilogue showing our happy couple, usually surrounded by their adorable children. If we’re lucky, we’ll meet our hero and heroine as secondary characters in another story. But the message is invariably the same: Dick and Jane had no problems once they found each other.
Anyone who has truly experienced love and marriage knows that this halcyon vision is an unrealizable ideal. Relationships take work and even the most compatible couples face occasional rough patches. But rarely does a romance author shine light on what that happily ever after is really like. Curtiss Ann Matlock’s new novel, At the Corner of Love and Heartache, does just this.
The hero and heroine of Matlock’s story have already had their happy ending. In Cool Tea On A Hot Day, newspaperman Tate Holloway bought The Valentine Voice, the local paper in Matlock’s fictional small town of Valentine, Oklahoma. He inherited the staff, which included Marilee James, the associate editor. Marilee is a single mother of a nine year old son who has the mind of a five year old and will never develop further. Marilee had been married to Stuart James, a famous photojournalist, but Stuart had bowed out of the marriage when Willie Lee was an infant. Marilee is also raising her niece, Corrine, the daughter of her irresponsible younger sister.
Marilee had fallen into an engagement with the local veterinarian, Parker Lindsey, a good guy but not someone who made her heart flutter. Cool Tea On A Hot Day was the story of Marilee’s and Tate’s falling in love. At the Corner of Love and Heartbreak begins with the announcement of their engagement appearing in The Voice.
Given the wonders of modern technology, even Valentine’s paper has a website and one of the first people to read the announcement, even before the paper has hit the streets, is far away in New York City: Stuart James. In a crisis, he has been drawn back to the United States and to the woman he abandoned almost a decade earlier. Stuart decides to travel to Valentine and to Marilee. Surely she will not send the father of her child away.
No, At the Corner of Love and Heartache doesn’t rip away the happy ending of the previous book. Marilee does not decide to give Stuart a second chance. Rather, his arrival helps Marilee put her life in perspective and helps her and Tate find their way to a closer, more meaningful relationship.
Matlock doesn’t do plots; she does characters. Her fans will become reacquainted with the denizens of Valentine as well as encountering new arrivals like Tate’s mother, Franny. The old familiar faces are here. Winston Valentine and his neighbor Everett Northrupt are still engaged in their battle of the flags. The mayor is still promoting the town. And, I gather, characters from Cool Tea are still working their way through their own relationships.
The most poignant character is Willie Lee, a child whose intelligence may be limited but who has amazing gifts of love and empathy. Corrine, a young girl on the cusp of womanhood, is likewise lovingly portrayed as she tries to come to terms with her mother’s problems. Indeed, this book is chock full of beautifully drawn people, with real lives and real problems.
Matlock’s characters aren’t millionaires or movie stars; they aren’t SEALs or secret agents. They are just ordinary people who are trying to make their way through life, with both its love and its heartache. As in so many of her stories, her hero and heroine are not young but rather mature people who find their way to romance and happiness.
While At the Corner of Love and Heartache is clearly a sequel, it can stand on its own. I should know; Cool Tea still resides on my to-be-read pile. But if you read and enjoyed the first, you will definitely want to read the sequel. It’s a daring thing that Matlock has done, opening the door to what really happens after the hero and heroine walk into the sunset. Life happens to Tate and Marilee, just as it happens to all of us. And life, as portrayed by Curtiss Ann Matlock, is full of both joy and sadness, of good and bad. Nobody does life better than she does.