Coast Road
Grade : B+

Although this author was once known for her romance novels, she's made a strong transition into contemporary women's fiction, and Coast Road is a fine example. While the foundation of the book is the love story between Jack and Rachel, the emphasis here is on the complexities of modern relationships - between men and women who love each other but can't figure out how to do it right, between women as friends, between parents and their changing-every-second children. All these elements are brought into play in Coast Road as the sensitive and often emotional story of Jack McGill and Rachel Keats unfolds.

After a decade of marriage, perfect-for-each-other Jack and Rachel were divorced when Rachel walked out on Jack without explanation, taking with her their two young daughters, Samantha and Hope. Rachel only moved about 150 miles away, so Jack can see his daughters whenever he wishes. While Jack is a responsible parent who loves his daughters, seeing the girls is not easy with his hectic schedule, and over the years, they have drifted apart. Now, six years after the break-up, Jack is a highly successful architect in San Francisco, Rachel is a talented artist who now resides in scenic Big Sur, Samantha is a smart-mouthed fifteen year-old girl/woman who is both attracted to and afraid of boys, and thirteen-year-old Hope, who is still little-girl enough that the most important person in her life is her kitty.

One night, Rachel is involved in a tragic car accident, which leaves her in a coma. Jack drops everything (and there is a lot to drop) and makes his way to his daughters, who have mixed feelings about Jack's sudden reappearance in their lives. As for Jack, did he ever stop loving Rachel? Seeing her like this makes him question what's he's been doing for the last six years, and why his relationships with other women have never really taken off. Rachel has never remarried, either. Might she still love Jack?

As the story progresses, Rachel stays deeply within the confines of her coma, and it is Jack's story that unfolds as he becomes retrospective regarding the path his life has taken, his marriage, his career, his divorce, and the daughters he loves so much. Divorced so long from Rachel, why does he keeps referring to her as his wife? It's an issue that bothers Rachel's best friend, Katherine, who takes an instant dislike to Jack, as Jack does to Katherine. Jack would have sworn the "old" Rachel would have never taken a shine to someone as flamboyant as Katherine, let alone some of the other people who seem to be Rachel's friends. Just who is this new Rachel, the one he wishes with all his heart would wake up and talk to him?

Through conversations with Katherine, Jack comes to know the Rachel he has missed out on for the last six years. Secrets are revealed and Jack comes to understand why his marriage failed, and his part in its failure. At its core, Coast Road is a tale of very human, very fragile people, who didn't know just how to make sense of life until it came to a grinding halt one day.

This is Jack's story, really - and how can it not be? Rachel is in a coma until Chapter 23. But we do come to know her through Jack's memories , and through his conversations with her friends. However, while the characters are neatly drawn, there were really no surprises in this story. Jack became an architect so he could build homes for families to live and love in, yet he "sold out" when the big bucks started coming in. This came as no surprise. And Rachel, who left Jack one day when he was on a business trip, had a secret she kept from him - one that might have made a difference if she'd tried to communicate with him. Seemed a little familiar to me. Rachel basically left Jack without ever really explaining her feelings beforehand. Well, why not, Rachel? Jack may have been a high-powered kind of guy, but she never gave him a chance to see if he'd change or not (chances are he wouldn't have at that moment, but we'll never know).

Still, I can easily recommend Coast Road for its humanity, its basic love story, great writing, fine characterizations, and its fully-drawn secondary cast (especially Katherine and Dr. Steve). This is a multi-layered journey of love stories that are both tender and bittersweet as they meander down the highway, stopping at all the right places and examining the truths we all need to come to grips with if we are to connect fully with the people we care about. Give it a try - Coast Road may just take you where you want to go.

Reviewed by Marianne Stillings
Grade : B+
Book Type: Fiction

Sensuality: Subtle

Review Date : April 26, 1999

Publication Date: 1999

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Marianne Stillings

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