Desert Isle Keeper
After All These Years
After a car accident took at least one parent from two-year-old Curry Trent, Huck James, and Tom Winchester, the three grew up inseparable in the small South Dakota town of Gleeson. Until, that is, Curry married Huck, and both Huck and Tom went to Vietnam – but only Tom came back. Fifteen years later, Tom has come back to Gleeson to repair his father’s house and put it up for sale. Older and parents now, will Curry and Tom find a second chance?
Curry compares herself to the generations of practical pioneer women who settled the South Dakota plains. It’s a good comparison. Curry’s a realist who does what she has to (like running a paint store) but not doing what she doesn’t have to (she hates the laborious process of frying chicken, so instead she rolls it in cornflakes and sticks it in the oven). Tom, by contrast, is meticulous in his work as a home restorer. He’s also a pessimist with a negative view of himself as a father and husband. I like that the author doesn’t expect Curry to “fix” Tom, but instead uses his interactions with Curry as a catalyst for Tom to re-examine himself.
The author does a marvelous job writing Curry and Tom as parents. Because Curry lost both parents, and Tom was left with a bitter and unhappy father, neither has a clear example to emulate. Curry, however, has embraced her role (by necessity), raising Huck with the same warm practicality that she applies to the rest of her life. Tom, by contrast, has traveled the country restoring houses, and has been a minimal physical presence in Diana’s life. Despite this, she’s bright, enthusiastic, and confident. Maybe Tom hasn’t been as bad of a father as he thinks. And for all that Curry seems calm and hands-off, losing her parents, then her husband, then the grandmother who raised her has left her more afraid than she realizes of letting Huck go.
Both Curry’s son Huck and Tom’s daughter Diana are realistic, three-dimensional teenagers, and although they do advance the plot, they never feel written just for that purpose. The book deals a lot with sexual coming-of-age, both via reflections on the teenage Tom/Curry/Huck years and via Huck and Diana’s relationships to each other. Diana and Huck seize the chance to ask outside adults about sex, and Huck in particular confronts his teenage hormones.
What keeps this book from being an A, for me, is the fact that it is, emotionally, a bit of a difficult read. There’s a lot of sadness in After All These Years. The parents of the protagonists lost their lives, their own happiness, and the chance to see their children grow up. The surviving parents had difficult relationships with the children. Curry lost Huck, and young Huck lost his father. Tom and Curry lost years of opportunity to be together; Tom missed years with Diana. Curry’s two friends are divorced and widowed, respectively. I know I sound fussy, but for all that I don’t want endless sunshiny cameos from characters in a series, it was hard to see so much sadness. The book is on my keeper shelf, but I tend not to reread it that frequently because I feel like I have to be in the mood to handle it.
That’s not to say that the book is a downer. It’s often very funny, especially in its honest examination of teenagers. When planning Diana’s visit, for instance, Tom worries that she and Curry’s son Huck won’t get along. “Curry had seen pictures of Diana Winchester… Diana might not like Huck, but Huck was going to like Diana.”
If you are interested in a contemporary with heft, or if you like stories that make you ache a little as well as making you smile, then After All These Years is exactly what you’re looking for.