by Milly Johnson
In a way, this book returns us to Milly’s often-used foundation of three women whose lives intertwine and whose relationship supports one or more of them escaping from a desperate situation and the others finding happiness and fulfillment.
Three sisters born seven years apart meet at their family home upon the death of Eleanor, their mother. And I use that “mother” term loosely. Maybe I should instead say “the woman who gave birth to them.” The two older sisters (around 38 and 45)have only seen each other sporadically and perfunctorily. Neither has seen or heard from the youngest (31) for 15 years since she ran away at age 16. They hardly know each other and aren’t particularly fond of what they do know. Jolene, the oldest, is married to a very bad man and is very unhappy in her marriage. She is also a very successful romance novelist who seems to write the same type of books Milly herself does. Also, they are both on their 20th book. And I hope that’s all their lives have in common, but I suspect not.
Later, in bed, Annis didn’t go to sleep immediately but sat up reading one of Jolene’s books, the only one she hadn’t read. It was about a well-to-do woman who left an abusive husband and had to build up her life from scratch. Jolene wrote a lot about women in need of a renaissance and she wrote about them too well. Annis had met women like them in her own life, so she could sense the ring of truth in her stories and her characters.
Marsha is the owner of a thriving company and is very well-off. She is single and has never had a successful long-term relationship thanks to having unresolved issues from her girlhood platonic affair with the family priest. (It is funny that she apparently once went on a blind date with the same crazy loser that Juliet in An Autumn Crush did!-I love these little threads to her other books Milly always includes.) Annis is something of a mystery, except we know she has had a very rough life. At first homeless, hungry, and going from pillar to post, for the last 7 years she has at least been relatively safe and befriended by a somewhat mysterious group of women who work at a cocktail bar and maybe something else. She is very wise, thanks to her experiences, and is the catalyst for Jolene and Marsha to find their paths forward.
There are a lot of mysteries and questions that run through this book. Why did Annis run away at 16? Why did her parents apparently not try to find her? Why, even when most desperate, did she not ever try to make contact with her family? Especially her sisters? Why does Jolene stay with such a vile man? Exactly how vile is he? Why did Eleanor leave the bulk of her fortune to Annis of all people? What’s with Sally and her extreme reaction to reading “the letter” Eleanor entrusted her to deliver after her death? Eleanor’s letter is revealed bit by bit to the reader throughout the book. The answer to the first question is telegraphed pretty clearly before it is spelled out, others are revealed at various points, and some come only at the end.
Most of the questions and drama involve Annis and Jolene. The three sisters forge strong loving bonds with each other as the book progresses, and each of their lives and challenges are explored. Two of the three sisters are in hopeful romantic relationships by the end of the book. And the other finds freedom. So yes, it has much in common with many of Milly’s books, but it does forge some new ground. It has plenty of funny observations and commentary, but not as much comedy as many of her earlier books. A lot of comedy would be out of place in this one. It deals with some serious and disturbing issues and people. Usually, Milly’s villains are despicable human beings, but they fall short of being mentally ill. In this one, we have 3 really sick people and one that comes pretty darn close. I admire Milly for bravely breaking new ground and forging new paths with each novel, especially lately. But I also love that she is keeping true to many of the aspects that I love and that really work. It’s probably one of her best books, but it’s not a personal favorite. **Spoiler**
I wasn’t too enthralled with either romance. I just could not understand Jolene’s choices even given her childhood. It is certainly not the first time Milly has had a “wet lettuce” as one of her main characters, this one seemed to be less understandable. I felt that the reveal of her husband’s perfidy was a little handy. I would have preferred for her to break free without needing that extra impetus. Sally’s enlightenment seemed to come out of nowhere. I do miss the comedy and although the ending was satisfying, I didn’t find myself wanting to cheer.**End spoiler**
Oh well. No book is perfect, and my bar has probably become too high for Milly. I guess that’s on me.