Poet, storywriter, and second-novelist Henley (Hummingbird House, 1999) offers a historical romance that goes back and forth between the contemporary Midwest and 1960s Vietnam.
Ruth Anne Bond is quiet and self-effacing, a devout Catholic and devoted wife and mother, who works at the town library in Tarkington, Indiana. She doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with Father Carroll, but she shares his discomfort with homosexuality: Ruth’s daughter Laurel has recently declared herself a lesbian, and Ruth is torn between her love of Laurel and her disapproval. Not that Ruth has never strayed herself—she had a doomed affair with a man in Vietnam many years before—but there are certain lines she simply can’t cross. One day, however, her past comes back to haunt her when she receives an e-mail from a Tin Tran, who claims to be Ruth’s son. The Vietnamese affair is now more than a distant memory, and Ruth needs to learn how to organize the disparate elements of her life. Tin is getting married, and his fiancée naturally wants to know something of his family history. Slowly Ruth recalls the steps that took her to Vietnam, where she worked as librarian in a convent of French nuns in order to be closer to her husband-to-be, Johnny. But there she also met Vo, who became her lover and the father of her first child. Overwhelmed by past (Tin invites her to his wedding) and present (Laurel and her girlfriend decide to buy a house together), Ruth goes to Michigan to stay in the convent where a childhood friend of hers, now a nun, has lived for over 20 years. She also tries to bring about a reconciliation with her elderly aunt, now in a nursing home run by the convent. There is, as everyone knows, a period of middle age wherein almost everyone ends up regretting the compromises of youth. Will Ruth manage?
Sentimental, but readable and sincere all the same.