Berkley, $5.99, ISBN 0-425-19302-0
Contemporary Romance, 2003
If you pick up Dee Holmes’s Coming Home expecting a straightforward romance like the label on the book spine, you will be disappointed. If you are willing to adjust your expectations a little, you may find this book a very satisfying “three women and a Kleenex” story like I do.
Schoolteacher Olivia Halsey learns that her late parents’ home in Bishop, Rhodes Island, has been vandalized. She immediately leaves her home in Greeley, Massachusetts, for Bishop. She isn’t just concerned about the house – her boyfriend Daniel, a divorcée with a teenage daughter, is pressing her for commitment and Olivia isn’t sure if she can settle down with anyone. Her friends Lexie James and Claire Fitzgerald join her soon after, supposedly to give her some support but help, but in truth, each has her own reasons to flee Greeley temporarily. Lexie is the love-’em, leave-’em type that is trying to find some answers as to why she isn’t too happy about how her life is. Claire is the married one with an absent husband and a runaway teenage son. Lonely and miserable, she soon flirts with the possibility of an affair with the town sheriff and resident bad boy playboy Trent.
Coming Home is a formulaic story and the characters – the Responsible One, the Slutty One, the Married One – are familiar to readers of women’s fiction. The early parts of the book can be really trying as the author seems to be merely regurgitating a tried-and-true cookie-cutter three friends/sisters story typical of the women’s fiction genre. It is during the second half of the book that it can really deliver a few good and hard-hitting punches in my gut. As the friends repair Olivia’s house, they confront their own insecurities and demons in ways that are often very real, sometimes too real in that they strike a deep chord in me. Olivia grows from a woman that keeps running away into a wiser woman that realizes that she may realize that she loves Daniel too late. Olivia turns from an irritating overly-judgmental creature into a very sympathetic character. I don’t agree with half the things she did in this book, but the author manages to convey Claire’s reasonings for why she does these things so well that I can empathize with her. Lexie learns to respect herself, and trust me, Ms Holmes manages to develop Lexie’s arc without relying on contrived Madonna/Whore stereotypes, without judging Lexie, and for that I am grateful. In fact, one can argue that Lexie starts out the emotionally messy one but in the end she’s the one that rallies the three of them together.
Do be aware that there are some issues covered in this book that some readers will find objectionable. The three women tackle issues like infidelity, commitment, friendship, and family and not all of these issues are portrayed through rose-tinted lens typical of a romance author. Claire, especially, will be a controversial character for readers that hold this book to romance novel standards and values. But for me, while the characters and the issues are familiar, the way Dee Holmes handle her characters’ growth to make me care for them is what makes Coming Home a good read. It’s more cynical than a typical romance novel but a little more idealistic than a typical women’s fiction. But I find that in doing so, it has struck a near-perfect balance in storytelling.
One thing though: Olivia describes herself as “no-commitment phobic”. Shouldn’t it be “commitment phobic”? “No-commitment” phobic indicates that she is afraid of non-commitment, is that right? If that’s the case, it’s a complete one-eighty from the actual phobia Olivia is suffering from. Why didn’t anybody catch this in the preproduction process of this book?