Before and Ever Since

Sharla Lovelace
November 2012, Contemporary Romance
Berkley, $15.00, 336 pages, Amazon ASIN 0425253058

Grade: C+
Sensuality: Warm

The synopsis of this book seemed so full of potential, and my favorite books tend to be character driven. However, I was disappointed in the execution of several plot devices, especially the mystical aspect of the book.

Having her ex-husband Kevin, who doesn’t make unexpected visits, knock on her door sends Emily’s day right down the toilet. But it is the news that her mother Frances has put the family home up for sale that causes her the biggest consternation. She rushes over to find out what is going on, prepared for the worst, like a life-threatening illness or mental breakdown. But to her bewilderment, her mother just states she is tired of the upkeep and wants to do something more with her life than sit around the house. She plans to sell the house and then travel with her sister Bernie in her powder blue Winnebago. If that isn’t enough to take in, Emily has to deal with the professional disappointment that her mother listed the house with another realtor instead of her. In fact she listed it with Dedra Powers, the woman who had an affair with Kevin while they were still married. But nothing on earth could have prepared her for the discovery of Ben Landry, her daughter’s biological father, at her mother’s front door.

Ben was the boy who was pure trouble all through school. From putting snakes in the teachers’ lounge and sneaking into the girls’ bathroom in grade school, to becoming the "dangerous-looking dark-eyed guy in high school who could part a room like the Red Sea when he entered it,” Ben was Emily’s best friend. Of course she was aware of his appeal, but she was in love with Kevin. Plus he had a revolving door of girls in and out of his life. Still no matter who he dated, he never let his guard down, except with Emily. And one night she let hers down and succumbed to his charismatic appeal. But then the next day he was gone.

Frances has hired Ben to renovate the house. Filled with unease and apprehension, Emily is pulled back into Ben’s orbit as she attempts to impede his interaction with their daughter. However something strange is happening whenever she visits her old home. It appears her old house has elected to share it long-held secrets with her.

When Emily visits her childhood house, at times she is pulled back into the past and she sees scenes from her family’s life played out in front of her. As an example, she sees her parents as a young married couple viewing the house as a potential home. Another passage involves her sister. Because of this I had expectations of a more causative reason for the scenes’ inclusion – maybe an incentive to convey feeling and confidences instead of just Emily having insight into the past. But that didn’t happen. And that confused me, leaving me wondering why certain bits were important to the overall story. Maybe this was Ms. Lovelace’s way of overcoming the limitations of the first person narrative.

The characterizations and family dynamics of Emily, her mother Frances, her daughter Cassidy and her sister Holly are very authentic and genuine. In fact, all of the familial relationships including Emily and Kevin’s relationship as a divorced but civilized couple, are very realistically drawn.

The story arc between Emily and Ben is weaker. Not because of the characterization, but I found the conflict - a big misunderstanding - that separated them years ago weak. And that someone could lose so much for an easily solved misinterpretation is disheartening.

Saying too much would constitute a spoiler, and even though I can’t say with certainty that it never happens in small town U.S.A , the dénouement seems vastly inaccurate especially with the safeguards we have in place now.

Great characterization, credible relationships but a slow, circumambulated pacing results in me giving this book just below a qualified recommendation.

-- Leigh Davis

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