Imagine this: a young woman in her purple taffeta dress, wearing a small diamond engagement ring is standing on her front porch waiting for her fiancé to take her to the Fall Formal. Instead, another young man approaches and hands her a letter from her little sister and her fiancé, telling her they’re in love and they’re eloping. Imagine the heartache and shock felt by that girl. What’s she to do? Well, Cassie Madison decided to get on with her life. She went to college, helped build a successful advertising agency in New York City, and never looked back.
When her sister Harriet called to say their father was dying, Cassie headed south to her hometown of Walton, Georgia, just in time for one last lecture from her father about how she’s supposed to be living in Georgia before he dies. Her father’s last request is that she live in the century-old family home she’s just inherited. While honored, Cassie’s life is in New York, and when her sister and aunt won’t take the house, she’s forced to put it on the market, much to the chagrin of town doctor Sam Parker.
Sam was the boy who brought the note that broke Cassie’s heart. He’s been in love with Cassie since they were in the sixth grade, and he’s bound and determined not to let her get away again. So begins a campaign to keep Cassie home.
Let me say from the start that I liked Cassie. When she was eight years old her mother died and left her with the enormous responsibility of caring for her younger sister, whom Cassie protected with all the ferocity of a lioness. So it was doubly hurtful when the sister she’d loved stole her boyfriend. I admired her for leaving and making something of her life. When she comes back she realizes she’s missed her family and plans to visit often, but she loves her life in New York and wants to get back to it. Unfortunately, Cassie falls victim to the guilt trip laid on her until she decides that it was a mistake to leave Walton at all. And that’s where my problems with this book begin.
I couldn’t stand the inhabitants of Walton, especially Cassie’s family and so-called friends. First there’s Harriet and her husband Joe. These two never once apologize for breaking Cassie’s heart. They apologize for telling her they eloped in a letter, but that’s it. Everyone keeps telling Cassie these two were meant to be together because of their happy marriage and five kids. Joe explains to Cassie they tried to tell her before the elopement, but she wouldn’t listen. Hey Joe, maybe you sent her the wrong signal with the diamond ring and the proposal. As for Saint Harriet…authors often manipulate readers via their characters, but readers will feel like Wylie E. Coyote being hit with the proverbial anvil by the time they finish reading about Harriet (if they finish the book at all), so schmaltzy, over the top, and piled on are her travails.
Then there’s the rest of Walton. The lovely Sedgewick twins, who are in their late seventies, burst into Cassie’s house one morning unannounced, interrupt a business call and yell at her. They come to apologize a few days later, not for being rude, but because they forgot Cassie’s been living up north and “anybody who has lived in New York City was bound to pick up bad habits.” My mouth dropped open at that. I may be a crass northerner, but where I come from it’s considered rude to enter a person’s home without an invitation and it’s rude to interrupt a phone call. Then there’s Mary Jane, Cassie’s childhood friend, who is angry with Cassie for toying with Sam’s affections. Cassie didn’t even know the man liked her until she came back to town. Mary Jane had fifteen years to make her move.
And of course there’s Sam – the man who’s been obsessed with Cassie since they were kids. The man who tries to pass a city ordinance so it’ll be harder for to sell her house. The man who calls her mean and says snide things about New York during most of their conversations. The man who nearly takes advantage of her while she’s drunk, then drops her cold because she won’t agree to stay in Walton at that very moment. The man who fakes being a redneck idiot when her fiancé comes to visit, just to annoy the fiancé and drive him off. The man who yells at her and insults her regularly and is supposed to be the hero of the story.
These people, who supposedly love and care about Cassie, have never once gone to visit her in New York, but they know she must be unhappy there because they would be unhappy there. When she finally comes home they make her feel guilty, because as long as she’s gone they feel guilty for how they treated her. They all know that by coming back to Georgia she’d have to break up with her fiancé and lose her job, but what’s that matter to them?
Not only are the characters selfish, but their opinion of New York is amazingly low. Of course Cassie’s niece only learned to curse from her aunt because only people who live in big cities cuss. And no one ever has to lock their doors in Georgia because there’s no crime, unlike in New York. And old Miss Lena who suffers from dementia would be a homeless person on the streets of New York because only in a small town are people kind and caring and look out for their own. Mind you, New York isn’t the only place insulted in this story. There are derogatory portrayals of Californians, Bostonians, Trenton, New Jersey (God forbid Walton resemble that city), women who wear high heels (Cassie is constantly scolded for wearing them), owners of German cars (Andrew’s Mercedes is always in the shop because it’s not a good old reliable American car), and romance readers (Miss Lena highlights all the sex scenes and recommends the books with the hottest sex scenes, because we all know romance novels are about nothing but sex). In my mind, Georgians are insulted most of all by this portrayal of them as small-minded, selfish, and insular people.
To say I didn’t like this book would be an understatement. I found it mean and offensive and emotionally manipulative. Obviously that was not the author’s original goal, but that was the final product and in good conscience I can’t recommend this book to anyone.