New tragedy jars a rudderless woman out of her grief and into the life of a charming, troubled eight-year-old.
Ellie Lerner has been coasting for years since the death of her baby. Her marriage on hold, her teaching career lifeless, Ellie’s only real connection seemed to be to her lifelong friend Lucy, who had moved to England, married and produced an adorable, precocious girl, Ellie’s goddaughter Sophie. When Lucy is murdered, that tie seems severed also. But the connection to Sophie quickly takes its place, as Ellie drops her life in Boston to take up residence in Lucy’s Notting Hill home. Sophie’s father, Greg, has buried himself in work and drink; Ellie’s husband, Phillip, doesn’t understand. Only the troubled little girl really seems to need Ellie. Caring for her, Ellie comes to terms with her grief, and discovers some hard truths about her dear friend and about herself that help her move on. Buxbaum (The Opposite of Love, 2008) has a light touch with characterization, letting us judge the friends through Ellie’s admittedly unreliable rose-colored nostalgia. But although the plotline could easily dip into formula, Buxbaum keeps the story as smart as the writing. “If our lives were a movie, this would be the scene where the music changes,” Ellie observes. “We’d make eye contact—tentatively at first, then a pact—before we’d rip off each other’s clothes and declare our undying love…But this is not a movie, and things are never simple.” Instead, the author keeps it real and works out optimistic rather than happy endings for her sharply focused and honestly sympathetic characters.
Fresh, lightly done take on the classic tearjerker.