A Touch of Forever
After a disastrous, abusive marriage, Lily Salt is content to raise her four children alone. When railroad engineer Roen Shepard arrives in her town of Frost Falls, she is as cold to him as she has been to previous men who saw opportunity in a widow. However, when Roen suggests a mock engagement to help him avoid a crazy ex, Lily raises the stakes by suggesting a marriage, and their close proximity slowly leads to a Frost Falls thaw.
Roen (a name that rings modern to me) is a nice guy who, as a railroad engineer, is the black sheep in his family of eccentric and temperamental artists. I enjoyed the parts of the book which talked about his work and thought the author effectively blended the history with narration, avoiding sounding like a Wikipedia article. Roen strikes a supportive balance between patience and pushing as he deals with Lily’s survivor’s trauma. For her part, Lily is effectively characterized as withdrawn and icy in the first part of the book. Her speech, her body language, and even her parenting vividly create a person keeping others at bay. However, this sets up the book’s first huge problem: I never really understood why Lily, who is not even comfortable with Roen sitting in her drawing room, suggested that they marry. There’s a nod to opportunist suitors, but we never see any, and financially, Lily and her family seem just fine. It feels, therefore, contrived.
Lily’s parenting was a highlight for me. She feels authentic as a 1900-era mother, praising sparingly and having high expectations for chores and manners, ands her kids come across as true to their ages. Their reactions to their mother’s trauma are well developed, but it would have been more credible if they had personal scarring from their violent home life, not just excessive protectiveness of Lily.
I was uncomfortable with the depiction of the Chinese-American supporting character Fedora Chen. Fedora comes across as a human McGuffin, an object advancing the plot. Her first purpose is to allow white characters to virtue signal: the hotel owner takes it “personally” when people commit racist “slights” against Fedora (Fedora’s own feelings are never mentioned; the only time she becomes emotional is in defense of the white children she is babysitting). Her second purpose is to be the object of affection for two men, one a stalker and one a love interest, but you’d be hard pressed to tell which is which by their behavior. Both idolize her grace and symmetrical beauty (stereotype much?), show up at her workplace uninvited, and insert themselves into her daily routine despite a lack of encouragement. Fedora’s testimony could disprove a statement by a suspect in the climax; nobody asks her. There is an English word she doesn’t know even though she’s Californian. It’s just… not good.
The prose is always technically precise and historical details come through – it’s easy to picture the boardwalks of the town, or Lily sewing in her rocking chair, or the chili and cornbread supper prepared at Lily’s house. I also appreciated that the book existed within the same universe as previous stories without reading like a monotonous epilogue of bliss for prior protagonists. The sheriff and his doctor bride (or the doctor and her sheriff!) are a highlight as believable characters who turn up for reasons other than to appear nauseatingly in love.
The first half of A Touch of Forever has a cozy, slice-of-life feel, and nearly everything I liked in this review relates to the excellent execution of that homey section. When the second brings in insane criminals and doubles down on the problematic depictions of race, the book feels disjointed, and my grade began to dive. On the whole, there’s stuff to like here, but instead of Western suspense, I wish it had just been a Western.
Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo
Visit our Amazon Storefront