Love Always should be subtitled, "When Smart People Do Stupid Things."
Love Always is the story of Simone Harper. As a child, Simone had been impulsive and headstrong. Her mother attributed her "willful and stubborn" behavior to birth order. As the middle child in the family, Simone felt the need to compete with her older sister and younger brother for her parents' attention. At eighteen, she got their undivided attention.
Simone's prom date, Dayton Clark, couldn't believe his good fortune when she agreed to go out with him. He had admired the high school principal's daughter from afar and had "worshipped her from the start." He was content just to dance with her and inhale her perfume. "He could hardly believe it when she had actually suggested they run off and get married."
Dayton's joy and his unconsummated marriage to Simone were short lived. They returned to face two sets of angry parents. She had never really been in love with Dayton. Her marriage was sparked by a desire to one-up her older sister. The marriage was immediately annulled.
When Love Always begins ten years later, Simone is a successful financial analyst. Dayton is a former Olympic athlete who, armed with a graduate degree from Stanford, is a successful business executive. Dayton sees Simone on the "Wall Street Week" television show and thinks fate has somehow brought them together.
About the same time Dayton is having his epiphany, Simone meets Dr. Anton "Tony" Housner, a Boston area fertility specialist. The couple is introduced by friends on a blind date. A whirlwind courtship ensues and the couple is married shortly thereafter. Tony is aware of the circumstances surrounding Simone's abbreviated first marriage.
Six months into the marriage, Tony and Simone begin to have problems combining their personal and professional lives. She is constantly "networking," attending business and social events. He needs downtime to read medical journals or to unwind from his high-stress practice.
Their differences are brought to a head when couple clash over where to place an extra set of keys.
He is shocked when Simone storms out after lashing out: "...I won't let my independence be taken from me! I've struggled all my life to be an individual, separate but equal..."
It is at this point the Love Always deteriorates.
Dayton Clark reenters her life asserting that Simone's first marriage to him may still be valid. Although Simone is angry with Tony, and has moved out of their bedroom, she does love him. She has no feelings for Dayton whatsoever.
So, here's the dumb part. Simone doesn't tell her husband about Dayton's claims and decides to handle the situation herself. Tony knows about her first marriage and the legal documents pertaining to the annulment are in their joint safe deposit box.
She consults with her best friend, a psychiatric nurse, who says Dayton may be unstable and Simone should confide in her husband. She consults with their lawyer, who says Dayton's claim is invalid and she should confide in her husband. Even her own internal voice tells her something is wrong:
"Simone, grow up! she told herself. Afterall, at that time Dayton was a kid, and so was I. I can't have it both ways. If I'm going to be a married woman with a career, there are realities I have to face. But why did Tony think he was the only one who could be right? Make decisions? He always said he was proud of me and my accomplishments, but it seems that in the back of his mind, deep down, he really wants me more domestic and relegated to the kitchen. Was that really the problem?"
The problem is Tony is too good, patient and long-suffering. Simone is spoiled, controlling and confused. I couldn't root for them to stay together because I always thought Tony deserved better.
Love Always could have been a good novel about second chances, about the road not taken, about any number of things. But it isn't. It does shed light on the influence of parents upon their children. It touches upon trust and competition within a marriage and how little things can tear people who love each other apart.
Love Always, Mildred Riley's sixth novel, has been reissued by One World/Ballantine as part of its Indigo Love Stories series. Love Always is in no way, Mrs. Riley's best work. Last year, I read No Regrets, a warm, rich love story set in the Harlem Renaissance. It's a five-heart romance that captures the political, social, economic and cultural flavor of the times. That's the Mildred Riley book I recommend.