The author of 15 novels (Footprints, 1996, etc.) about women coming into their own offers another feel-good story, here focusing on a single mother in suburban New Orleans who has lived too long in the shadow of her “perfect” sister.
Years ago, Ella ran away from her parents’ Texas home to marry Buddy against their wishes while her sister Terrell made a proper match with an up-and-coming lawyer. Ella and Buddy’s marriage turned into the expected disaster. Only his death several years after deserting Ella and their daughter Birdie has afforded Ella a modicum of respectability through widowhood. This she clings to by sending her mother, the intimidating Agatha, letters full of fantasy upper-middle-class whoppers remote from her modest life as a plant caretaker. A few months after the plane-crash death of Terrell has devastated the family—particularly Agatha, who clearly favored her older daughter—Ella and Birdie visit Texas for Agatha’s birthday. Ella is reunited with her sister’s grieving widower Rufus; long-simmering sparks ignite a predictable though not unsatisfying romance. As the affair deepens, Ella begins to recognize that Terrell suffered from her own demons and may have envied Ella as much as Ella envied her. The story trots along at a brisk clip, and Ella has her endearing moments, particularly while musing on her daughter’s fatherless state, but her unrelenting spunk can prove hard on a reader’s nerves. For her part, perpetually loving, helpful Birdie is too good a teenaged daughter to be believable (or even likable), while Agatha is too bad a mother to take seriously. Hearon’s male characters are more nuanced: Rufus has some edge and a sense of humor, Terrell’s adulterous lover shows generous passion, and Buddy combines a capacity for love and tyranny.
No surprises or challenges, but a pleasant, undemanding enough read.