HOTLINE HEAVEN by Frances Park


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Lumpish fiction debut by the owner of a D.C. chocolate shop detailing the lives of a middle-aged couple who meet via a suicide prevention hotline and continue to struggle against a nagging desire to end it all. Jo’s woes began when her father committed suicide when Jo was only six and her mother wrapped herself in an impenetrable blanket of denial. Having cared for her mother until her death from cancer, then having moved into the basement of her married sister’s home, Jo began the long march to age 40 as a self-loathing “old troll.” That is, until she called the Hotline Heaven suicide prevention number and found Monk on the other phone. A divorced former stock-car racer still grieving over the death of his young son, Monk turns out to have a knack for relieving Jo’s pain. The two arrange a meeting, fall in love at first sight, marry, and eventually settle down in tiny Canterbury, Pennsylvania. “Happily ever after” proves not to be a phrase in their emotional vocabularies, however: Even as Monk is promoted twice by his employer, a home improvement chain called Home-Mart, and even as Jo finds a satisfying creative outlet as baker at The Cake & Coffee, depression stalks them both. When Monk is fired from his job, he runs his car into a ditch; his near-death experience convinces him there’s no life after death and therefore no reason for hope in this one. When The Cake & Coffee is singled out for a feature article in Hearthstone, the pressure on Jo to create a cake good enough to grace the magazine’s cover takes the pleasure out of baking for her. Husband and wife suffer through this rough patch, empathetic yet too wounded to help each other. It takes a new job offer and a perfect cake to life their spirits, allowing these two aging lovers to stagger through another year. Park strives for lyricism in depicting the lives of this more-or-less average small-town couple, but too often her prose dissolves into sentimental murk.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1998
ISBN: 1-57962-011-6
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Permanent Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1998