At The Corner Of Love And Heartache
by Curtiss Ann Matlock, contemporary (2002)
MIRA, $6.50, ISBN 1-55166-917-X

This is a sequel in every sense of the word to Curtiss Ann Matlock's last book Cold Tea On A Hot Day. You may or may not have read about how Marilee James and Tate Holloway meet and fall in love in Cold Tea, but this story continues what happens to them after the wedding proposal. But don't worry about getting lost, because Ms Matlock will nicely provide enough backstory to fill in newbies.

Anyway, this story takes place in a nice Southern small town called Valentine. Marilee has a son, Willy Lee, who is a special-needs child and she also takes care of her niece Corrine. She is in love with Tate, who is the editor of the local paper (big town guy who finds comfort and peace in small town, that sort of thing), and wedding preparations are underway in At The Corner Of Love And Heartache. At the same time, Marilee is having pre-wedding jitters (her parents didn't have a happy life together, her first relationship didn't work out, et cetera). Her ex-husband Stuart shows up in the middle of the wedding preparations, and things become complicated.

One of the most compelling elements in one of my favorite TV shows, Gilmore Girls, is Lorelai Gilmore's relationship with her reformed ex-husband Christopher. I'm the only Gilmore Girls fan in the world, I think, to want Lorelai to dump that passive-aggressive bulldog Luke for Christopher. (Then again, I also want Dean to hook up with Lane, Jesse to hook up with Paris, and the bland Rory to die in a car crash.) What I'm saying is I find similar parallels to this book: I find Stuart James more interesting than both Tate and Marilee combined.

Maybe that's because whatever story Tate and Marilee has to tell, it's already told in Cold Tea. Most of At The Corner are merely repetitious bringing up of Marilee's insecurities and Tate reassuring her that she's good enough for him and vice versa. I think readers who haven't read Cold Tea or readers who are really, really enamored of it will love the repetitious reintroduction of Marilee's emotional baggages more than me.

Although I'm not saying that this book is bad. Ms Matlock writes lovely homely scenes without giving off any sense of contrived awkwardness. While from some other authors that some scenes here may be deemed too sentimental, Ms Matlock makes them flow so naturally that they are touching.

But touching comes only late into the story, when Stuart begins playing a more prominent role. He wants to be part of his son's life again. Why? Well, I'm not telling, but it's easy to guess at the reason. I'm not too happy at the author's not-too subtle attempt to make a "Special Needs Kid Are Special And Touched By God" statement using Willie Lee, but to give her credit, she manages to restrain herself in time. The final chapters treat Willie Lee, Corrine, and Stuart - characters most open to exploitation by the author for the sake of melodrama - with quiet respect and dignity. I really like that a lot.

Cold Tea came out after last year's Sept 11 tragedy, and it helps me find some comfort in Ms Matlock's lovely little corner of the world where everything will be okay in the end. At The Corner is no different - the characters are real, down-to-earth people with flaws and strengths that I can recognize in myself and in the people around me. In short, this is a story about "real" people. But with so many chapters here that will be superfluous to readers who have read Cold Tea - seriously, how many kisses and coitus interruptus between those two do I need to read? - I can't help feeling that this book could have worked better as a novella.

Rating: 77

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