Cloud Nine is a beautifully written book. It’s also horribly, horribly depressing. It has a tender romance, but no happily-ever-after. If you are a big fan of the multi-hanky read, you may enjoy this tearjerker. If you’re not, then don’t walk, run, in the opposite direction.
Sarah Talbot has just come through chemotherapy for a brain tumor, and it looks like she’s going to be okay. To celebrate Sarah’s thirty-seventh birthday, her nurse arranges a charter flight for her so she can see her home, Fort Cromwell, New York, from above. When she meets the pilot, Will Burke, there is almost an immediate connection. The flight goes well beyond the scheduled time frame as the two enjoy the scenery and each other’s company.
Will has demons of his own. Five years earlier he watched his son drown in the Atlantic Ocean. Though he was a navy man trained in water rescue, he was unable to save his son. He shut his family out during his grief, and his wife left him for a rich race car manufacturer. His love for his fifteen year old daughter Susan keeps him going. But Susan has her own problems dealing with her brother’s death and her new step-father.
Everything changes when Sarah hires Will to fly her to Elk Island, Maine for Thanksgiving to see her father and her estranged son. Susan stows away in the back of the plane and ends up spending Thanksgiving with the Talbot family as well. As Sarah and Will enjoy the beautiful scenery of the island together, they fall in love more quickly than they would have thought possible. But there are tensions to work out with their families. Sarah’s son Mike dropped out of school to live on the island with his grandfather, but Sarah wants him to return home with her. Sarah’s father loves her, but he has never gotten over his wife’s death. As a consequence his interactions with everyone are brusque and churlish. Will needs to overcome his own loss, and help Susan adjust also. And in the background is the spectre of Sarah’s illness, which could come back at any time.
This book was beautifully written. The descriptions of Elk Island had me wanting to hop the next plane to Maine. Whales, seals, eagles, and even the northern lights are all described in glorious detail. Even the run-down farm where Sarah’s father lived sounded appealing. The characters were also well-drawn. Will and Sarah were both sympathetic, and watching them get a second chance at love was very poignant. Also enjoyable was Will’s daughter Susan, who was written realistically. She had an endearing habit of changing her name to suit her mood, which drove her mother crazy but helped her work through her grief for her brother.
Why then the just-above-average grade? While the whole book is suffused with a melancholy mood, the ending was a tremendous slap in the face. General fiction does not require an hea ending as does most romance, but the ending of Cloud Nine stunned me. Normally I wouldn’t want to give the plot away, but I would hate for anyone to read this, as I did, thinking that it has a happy ending. Let’s just say if you adored Love Story and Terms of Endearment, and you thought Mary Jo Putney’s One Perfect Rose should have ended differently, then you might enjoy weeping your way through this book also. Otherwise, consider yourself warned.