Love in a Small Town
by CurtissAnn Matlock
(Avon, $5.99, rated PG-13), ISBN 0-380-78101-7
*****

This book is so good that I can't even think of a catchy way to start this review. It's warm, it's funny, it's about real people, and it kept me up until 3:30 a.m. on a school night, which is about the highest praise I can heap on a novel. And I loved every minute of it.

I can't wait to go back and read it again.

Tommy Lee and Molly are forty-somethings who are fast approaching their 25th wedding anniversary. Their three children are grown and out of the house, and this should be a golden time for them. But something is missing. Tommy Lee spends more time with his cars than he does with his wife. Molly can't shake the feeling that something is dreadfully wrong and empty in their marriage, but she doesn't know what it is and doesn't know how to fix it. She loves Tommy Lee she thinks. But something's gotta change.

Waking up one morning to an empty bed and knowing that, once again, Tommy Lee spent most of the night in his shop, Molly decides it's the last straw. She smashes the remaining three pieces of her wedding dishes in the sink, stuffs her horse into a trailer, grabs the cat, and heads off to experience a little freedom at an empty cottage on her mother's property. Tommy Lee knows where she is. If he still wants her, he'll have to win her back.

Tommy Lee is angry, bewildered, and scared. Suddenly his world is topsy-turvy and he's not even sure what's wrong with it. There's this nagging feeling of having missed out on life, of having married too young, of not knowing who his wife is anymore. On the one hand, he's so angry at Molly that he'd like to wring her neck. But on the other hand, he misses her. God, does he miss her. There must be a way to get her back. He doesn't want anyone else -- he just wants his Molly.

Molly's sisters are bewildered by all this carrying-on, but Rennie, the closest, supports her all the way. Molly's mama, herself married four times, offers sage advice. A friend of Tommy's brings a whiff of new romance to Molly's life. The local busybodies stick their noses in. This is, after all, love in a small town. A perfect title for what was, to me, darn near a perfect book.

Ms. Matlock used alternating points of view in this story, to the effect that we know Molly and Tommy Lee inside and out. I have friends who are just like both of them. Heck, I'm like Molly in a lot of ways, and I'll bet every reader will find their own common thread with these characters. The secondary characters add a lot to the story, and I cared almost as much about Rennie's fate as I did about Molly and Tommy Lee's.

Love in a Small Town reminds us all that there can be more love wrapped up in a tire change and a quart of oil than in a whole bushel of long-stemmed roses. Tommy Lee's transformation as he realizes that it isn't enough to just take care of his wife, that they both need the romance they've missed, is a joy to watch. And Molly's realization that the love she wants may be right under her nose is equally satisfying.

These are two funny, human, scared folks who aren't ready to give up on love, but have to fumble their way back toward it. Come along for the ride. It's a wonderful trip.

--Cathy Sova


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