Headline, £6.99, ISBN 0-7472-6524-0
Contemporary Fiction, 2003
Sarah Harvey, more well-known for her chick-lit novels, decides to take a breather and writes a tender love story of second time loves and the bonding between mothers and daughters. It’s a pleasant read, if hopelessly clichéd. If you have read and watched any of those “heroine with rebellious teenage daughter coming home to Momma” books and movies, you’ll know what to expect from Postcards from Wits End. I guess I should count my blessings that the heroine’s mother doesn’t have cancer late in the story to provide the overused “my momma dies after teaching me a valuable lesson in love” flow of tears sort of ending.
Natalie Dunne and Rob Forester have a perfect marriage – until his life is tragically cut short by a car crash. Natalie is never close to her stepdaughter Cassandra, and with Rob’s death, their grief only drive a wedge between them that reconciliation seems impossible. That is, until Laura, Natalie’s mother, invites her and Cas down to Whitsunday, a seaside small town in Cornwall, for Christmas.
Mothers in these sort of stories, in Texas or Cornwall, always have some large ranch house filled with animals, alive or stuffed, and Laura is no different. There’s always a horse somewhere, and in this case, Laura keeps a retired race horse named Last Chance. There are three cute collies and a Labrador puppy too. As I told my husband over breakfast the other day, if our kids expect us to provide them these sort of stories in their lives should they need some TLC from their blue, blue life, boy, are they going to be disappointed when all we can offer our kids is the spare foldable bed kept in the storeroom instead of racehorses and puppies to love. Nat and Laura have their issues, but now, Laura is ready to mend their rift and make the ladies a big family all over again. There are honky tonk dances, even a cowboy (an Irish cowboy, although he wishes he’s Texan), and of course, that handsome reclusive stranger with a secret Artistic Past for Nat to fall in love with. Substitute Cornwall with Texas and one would get another derivative story of its kind.
But it’s all good, though, because there are some pretty good scenes in this book. Nat and Cas have a relationship that follows a predictable pattern, but the angst rings true. Less successful is Laura and Nat’s relationship because everything about Laura feels forced – she’s a happy peace cakes plot device rather than an actual character. Everyone else in this story, from Cas’s smalltown crush to Connor the artistic, reclusive boyfriend to the other townspeople, is a familiar stereotype. I don’t think I will be spoiling anything if I say that in the end, everyone lives happily ever after as one big family in Whitsunday.
Still, no matter how formulaic this story, I never get this impression that the author is merely going through the motions. The title of this book refers to the postcards Nat writes to Rob when she needs an outlet to cope with the tough times in her life. Her relationship with Rob is actually moving enough that her reminisces of that man can move me to tears. While Connor isn’t too interesting as a character, the scene where Nat sleeps alone in his bed after a rough night is a really romantic moment in this story. Because the biggest driving force of this story – Nat and her relationship with Cas – feels real, Postcards From Wits End can overcome its too-sweet scenes and formulaic plot to resonate well enough with me.
A death may have set this story in motion but this story offers more uplifting scenes than cathartic ones. Put in cute doggies running all over the place, and Sarah Harvey just isn’t playing fair. There is actually very little question of me not succumbing to this overly sweet yet earnest little story of healing and the sisterhood of women.