Lost Highways
by Curtiss Ann Matlock, contemporary (1999)
MIRA, $5.99, ISBN 1-55166-499-2

Sometimes life gets a bit too choked up that one just need to drop everything on hold and run off to seek some peace of mind. Of course, let's be honest - you can only drop everything and go soul-searching if you're (a) a character in a book or movie, or (b) a filthy rich person who shouldn't be having such stress anyway (shame on you, maybe you ought to hand over your bank account to me instead). Me, I'm currently going through a difficult phase in life with my health and stuff, so it is always a pleasure to be able to do just that - drop everything - at least vicariously via this wonderful book.

Rainey Valentine is at a crossroad in her life. Thirty-five and having left two ex-husbands in her wake, she has inherited a truck, trailer, and a cute horsey named Lulu. I once wanted a horse too when I was a girl, and I had big plans to call her Stumpy. *sigh* Where was I? Oh yes, Rainey. She drops everything, says goodbye to her family and the town of Valentine, and follows her Momma's footsteps as a barrel racer. Honey, I can just hear the country music and the twang of guitars already. Let me just plaster Harry Connick, Jr's face as the hero and we're all set to go.

Rainey almost knocks down a man named Harry Furneaux (Harry Connick, Jr - and tosh to all who say otherwise! Hmmph!) one night while driving down a Texas highway. Turns out this hunk is also at a cross-road in his life, and before you can say Hop in darlin', he does just that.

At this point, I sighed in pleasure. Visions of sweet, extremely romantic stories like that Hope Floats movie came to mind. And this story delivers.

Rainey is a wonderful woman who manages to be sweet, warm, funny, and all womanly maternal while remaining human thanks to her insecurities and brave defiance at the men that had hurt her before in her life. And darlin' Harry, mysterious, sexy, romantic Harry who comes from a stifling, cold family background... watch him slowly come to life in face of Rainey's warm exuberance. Too bad this ain't real life and I'm married, or I'd go cruising down highways myself, hoping to knock down Mr Harry's twin brother. If he's a cop, all the better - he can book me anytime!

Enough lascivious fantasies. Let's get back to the book.

The main theme of this book is twofold: the importance of family and taking life one day at a time, without worrying too much of the future. I don't find many romances that deal with this sort of themes effectively - surprising, really, considering the supposed nature of the romance genre - and reading a book like Lost Highways is thus a real gem. I love this book. it made me sigh when I read it, sniffled a tear or two, and gained a sudden urge to go buy a Harry Connick, Jr CD.

So why didn't I consider this book a keeper? How come there's no nice fancy background with trucks, horses, or something? Well, it's the ending. After all the emotional build-up and wonderful warmth of the first 300 plus pages, the ending has to be... well, let's just say it's like traveling all over the world with a wonderfully witty companion who gives you strength and makes you laugh, only to discover, after hours of fun, that your final destination is not Tahiti, but the mundane, boring, and totally unromantic suburb street two blocks away from the home you wanted to get away in the first place. It's not a bad or a sad ending, but it's an ending that is a total letdown in its surprising mediocrity after all the excellent brilliance of the first two-thirds of the book. It left a Huh? after- effect that almost ruined the whole reading experience. Almost.

Rating: 78

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