I was struck by how somber this title seemed for a romance novel, even one with some very serious stuff going down. However, as I read on, I realized that the title could also have a very positive meaning.
The story is about Tyler, who returns to his childhood home in a state of severe ambivalence when his father is diagnosed with terminal cancer. His father Bob was, simply put, a monster; he physically and emotionally abused both Tyler and his older brother, and both escaped as soon as they possibly could. Now he’s an old, sick man, and Tyler can’t help hoping for some sort of closure for their relationship.
Bob was found ill by his temporary neighbor Ally, who’s been looking out for him and was the one who contacted Tyler. Advice columnist Ally is the sort of caring, generous person you’d expect to live in a cozy home with cats and babies round her feet. But she’s felt trapped every time she’s tried to settle down, and so she’s given up on both relationships and homes, not wanting to leave any more heartbroken men behind. Still, her warm heart can’t resist Tyler, who’s so emotionally wrecked by having to deal with his dad again.
This is the sort of mature romance within a realistic framework that Mayberry writes so well. The situation with Tyler’s father is deeply sad and troubling, and there’s no easy ending for it. The ending for the romance is more pat, and doesn’t hold up that well. (And the story gets into pet peeve territory when they have That Conversation — Ally tells Tyler they don’t need a condom, because she’s on the Pill and she trusts him. How I would have loved for him to retort, “well, I don’t trust you!”) Still it’s a very involving story, with a sweet, strongly felt romance.