A Light at Winter’s End
In Ms. London’s latest contemporary, Holly Drake, a 34-year old songwriter with a day job at a local coffee shop in Austin, can’t get along with her older sister Hannah. Hannah is everything Holly is not —polished, professional, and perfect — a fact their mother harped on for twenty years. Holly likes her life, although when she holds Hannah’s baby son Mason, she wishes she had a baby of her own. But, as a single songwriter/barista, Holly believes that having a baby isn’t a viable option for her.
In Holly’s view, being a mother is for women like her sister: Married, wealthy and superbly self-confident. Hannah, though, isn’t the woman Holly thinks she is and, days after their mother’s funeral, Hannah appears in Holly’s small studio apartment — a place Hannah’s only visited once in four years — and, with no real explanation, leaves Mason with Holly. Overnight, single carefree Holly becomes Mason’s mom. So, Holly (because her studio apartment is really really small) moves with Mason to the Drake family farm (which she inherited when her mom died), and begins life as a full-time parent.
Holly actually falls in love twice in this book. First, and most importantly, she comes to love Mason as though he were her own. Second, she falls in love with Wyatt Clark, a divorced dad who owns the ranch next to the Drakes’. Wyatt is still reeling from his divorce, the story of which was told in another of Ms. London’s books Summer of Two Wishes. Wyatt is a typical cowboy hero — handsome, strong, laconic and wryly witty. He and Holly are a lovely couple; she helps him heal and he helps her to see the talented, smart woman she really is. Their relationship builds slowly and realistically and, when they do finally make love and declare themselves a couple, it’s easy to believe they’ll have a happy future together.
I liked Holly’s love story with Wyatt. Her love story with Mason, however, is harder to enjoy. He isn’t her child, and it’s painful to watch her need him as though he were. Mason has a mom and it’s not Holly, it’s Hannah. And, despite the fact that Hannah left Mason with Holly for an unspecified period of time – Hannah, we learn, has checked herself into rehab – both the reader and Holly know that Hannah will be back to claim her son.
I wanted to sympathize more with Holly’s feelings for Mason than I did. Holly does a wonderful job of learning how to care for Mason. She and Wyatt, who has a daughter the same age as Mason, make a charming family and Mason thrives despite the absence of Hannah and her self-absorbed husband Loren. But, Hannah and Loren, both of whom are trying to repair their marriage and themselves, are Mason’s parents. That’s just the way it is, and it’s frustrating to watch Holly deny the power of that truth. If loving a child were all it took to lay claim to one, parents would keep their kids under lock and key. Not only can’t Holly keep Mason, she shouldn’t keep Mason. Everyone in the book, including Wyatt, understands this and I lost patience with Holly for refusing to.
Ultimately, though, I am glad I read this book. It’s not an easy read, although Ms.London’s writing is, as usual, confident and deft. Her characters make difficult choices and feel genuine pain as they work their way to happiness and redemption. If you are looking for a light read with a happy ending, this is not the book for you. The themes of sibling rivalry, maternal heartbreak and the pull of addiction are heavy ones. But if you are looking for a well-written, challenging read (and are willing to overlook a flawed heroine), I think you’ll enjoy A Light at Winter’s End.