Hawke's Cove by Susan Wilson
(Pocket, $23.95, G) ISBN 0-671-03573-8
****
Hawke's Cove is a poignant, nostalgic novel featuring lovers who are kept apart by external forces, primarily marriage to other people. In order for this delicate plot to work, the reader's belief that the couple truly belongs together has to be strong enough to forgive their adulterous thoughts or actions. In addition, there has to be some payoff at the end that allows the lovers to finally be reunited, either in life or in death. Hawke's Cove succeeds at both requirements. It's romantic without being calculatingly sentimental.

The novel's first half is comprised of the diary of Evangeline Worth, who has come to Hawke's Cove, Massachusetts in the Spring of 1944 to take up residence in her family's old summer cottage. Her husband John is in Europe fighting for his country, while Vangie is fighting to recover from the loss of her stillborn daughter. She finds some peace in the routine activities of playing cards with her neighbors and planting a garden. She needs some help fixing up the cottage and barn, however, and miraculously that help appears in the form of a handsome man with no past.

Joe Green is an anomaly during wartime -- a healthy adult male who is not a soldier. Joe keeps quiet about his past, but gradually Vangie and the townspeople come to trust him. Despite a mutual attraction, Vangie and Joe carefully keep their relationship platonic. Joe always refers to Vangie as "Mrs. W." and Vangie keeps writing faithfully to John. But Joe is always there for Vangie, when her grief over her lost baby threatens to overwhelm her, and when John is listed as Missing in Action. Despite their best intentions, clues about their true feelings keep slipping out. Then Joe's secret threatens to surface, and the residents of Hawke's Cove band together to protect the man they have accepted as one of their own. During the crisis, Joe and Vangie finally express their feelings, but it's too late for them to be together.

The rest of the novel takes place almost 50 years later and is narrated from alternating points of view that include Vangie, Joe, John, and Vangie's son Charlie. Charlie Worth is a journalist who is investigating the discovery of a long-lost fighter plane underwater near Hawke's Cove. How did the plane get there, and what happened to its pilot?

Vangie, who has lived in Boston since the end of the war, tries to discourage her son's investigation. How many secrets might he uncover about Joe's past and about Joe and Vangie's relationship? How many lives could the truth impact? And after all this time, will Vangie and Joe finally come face to face again? Joe debates whether to tell Charlie the facts about the life-altering crisis that brought him to Vangie's door 50 years ago. His reminiscences fit the last few surprising pieces together into the puzzle of Joe's true identity.

The success of Hawke's Cove can be attributed mainly to Vangie's distinctive first person voice. An aspiring poet, Vangie writes lyrically and honestly of the many emotions she feels during the six months that change her life. Although she barely lets herself admit her fledgling feelings for Joe, she fights to remember that her kind, decent husband is risking his life overseas. The reader easily empathizes with her dilemma, and may even wish that Vangie could live happily ever after with both men.

Of course that doesn't happen. The chapters narrated by John and Joe clearly portray two very different male voices. John is not a bad guy; he loves his wife, and knows he is lucky to have found her. But he's not emotionally demonstrative, and after the war he distances himself even further. Joe is obviously Vangie's soul-mate, but he can never forgive himself for actions he has taken that inadvertently hurt others.

A fateful meeting between Vangie's son Charlie and Joe's daughter Maggie sets up a final, tear-inducing scene in which fifty years of waiting reaches a bittersweet but hopeful conclusion. Forget The Bridges of Madison County, The Notebook and all of the other so-called "popular romance classics." Hawke's Cove is the real thing -- a good old fashioned story of love that endures for decades.

--Susan Scribner


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