16 Lighthouse Road
It’s been awhile since I last read a book that made me cry. Although Debbie Macomber’s 16 Lighthouse Road follows the scheme of her signature small-town romances (this one is set in Port Orchard, Washington), readers expecting a cushiony read should prepare for some surprises along the way. When a relatively innocuous scene involving a VISA card suddenly became tear-inducing, I knew I’d found a book that manages to address big issues in surprising ways.
For all its unpretentious conflicts – no spies, bombs, and other world-altering plot devices here – the book evoked an experience somewhere on the scale of Erich Segal’s Love Story. But before eyebrows rise at this surely blasphemous comparison, let me explain that Lighthouse reminded me of Love Story because of the series of emotional implosions condensed into a relatively slim volume. The difference is that Macomber’s book is comprised of interconnected romances that are sometimes told in shifting points of view, which would have been exasperating had it not been for the author’s skillful hand.
At last count, there are five stories in this book (and I’m hoping I’m not missing any). While cramming five different conflicts and five different resolutions in 377 pages does have its disadvantages, a prevailing theme holds them together and ensures an adequate treatment of two sweeping issues: marriage and divorce. Like a mosaic depicting the evolution of a relationship, the book deals with the various stages of love. Which story you’d like the most would probably depend on what stage you’re in, if you’re just finding the courage to fall in love (Justine and Seth); making a marriage work (Cecilia and Ian); facing the possibility of goodbye (Grace and Dan); trusting again and building anew (Olivia and Jack); or, finally, coping with loneliness and old age (Charlotte and Tom). These topics have been explored countless times in other books, but Macomber avoids the stereotype by populating her stories with characters so real they could be your next-door neighbors.
While Judge Olivia Lockhart’s story dominates the back cover blurb, what emerges as the centerpiece of the book is the struggle of the young couple whose divorce petition Olivia effectively denies. Cecilia has married Ian when their passion led to an unplanned pregnancy, but when their baby dies while he’s at sea, the experience leaves her so distraught that she files for divorce. Much like the other characters, Cecilia sometimes exhibits an unflattering bit of stubbornness and idealism that would make you want to cry, “Get over it!” And yet, her actions also reflect what real people would probably do in the same circumstances. This couple’s story is by far the most heart-wrenching, especially because of their simple but profound exchange of letters during Ian’s naval deployment.
Having to switch from one story to another can be difficult if you’re hooked on a particular story, but the book’s pacing makes it hard to put down. Macomber is not big on descriptions and her prose is spare but deep, so that Lighthouse is driven not by external conflict but by sheer emotion. Nowhere is this more evident than in the electrifying dialogue. To avoid spoilers, I won’t say who said the following line: “Fine, divorce me later, but love me now. I need you.” Another favorite:
“Yes,” she interrupted.
… He stopped abruptly. “What did you say?”
She squared her shoulders. “When? Just now? I said yes.”
“What was the question?”
“Well,” she said, exhaling slowly, “I didn’t quite give you time to ask, but what I said was yes. Meaning I’ll marry you.”
A minor note on the kisses depicted in the book. Every time lips meet, the characters involved have been consuming some high-calorie stuff so that they taste it in each other. I wonder if the author noticed or intended that. Well, no matter. The love scenes are all sexy, although most of them are nothing more than kisses, really – flavored by buttered popcorn, ice cream, or coffee.
Ms. Macomber’s past works have gotten some negative reviews from this site, and one reason is her predilection for writing several storylines at once – thus sacrificing depth for breadth in characterization. Although it didn’t conform to the tried-and-true pattern of having only two main characters and one love story, Lighthouse didn’t have less of an impact on me. Writing about marriage and divorce is certainly an ambitious task, and judging from the resonance of each story, the author didn’t fall short in her undertaking. She did it through a kaleidoscope effect that enhanced the vividness of the characters and the issues they were dealing with. Short but pithy scenes kept the different aspects of human relationships in lucid focus, exploring every what-if you can think of.
At some point in the last 10 pages, however, I felt restless when one character still hadn’t uncovered a mystery. I wouldn’t say who the character is so as not to give away the ending, but for those of you may become disgruntled about it, let me tell you how I “resolved” it. Have you ever let an important relationship slip away that, up to this day, a long-buried part of you acknowledges that it never really ended? Either Macomber intends to pick up on this character’s story in a follow-up book, or she really meant to depict the essence of some goodbyes as unfinished. This bothered me a bit, but after awhile I realized that – like many aspects of this book – this character’s story stuck faithfully to real life. It’s not very romantic, but not everything about marriage is.
Although the book is hawked at Ms. Macomber’s website as the first in the Cedar Cove series, the author herself writes that she isn’t sure if there will be sequels. Lighthouse makes for a perfect stand-alone work, and if more books will follow I can only hope that they’ll all be as cohesive and emotionally evocative as this one.