Gifts from the Sea
I had mixed feelings about Gifts from the Sea. One minute the characters would be refreshingly honest, and the next they were having very clichéd misunderstandings. It was this inconsistency that kept me from truly connecting with the story.
Goodger transports the reader back to the 1800’s and the tiny coastal village of Truro on Cape Cod (no exact date is provided, but there are trains and whaling is still an on-going concern). The residents are hardy souls who make their living retrieving cargo from the shipwrecks near their shores, selling it back to the shipping companies or keeping it for their personal use. The weather is harsh and the sea unforgiving, as our heroine, Rachel Best, knows: it claimed her two brothers and apparently her husband, Richard, as well.
Rachel walks the bluffs each day, looking out to sea, hoping that Richard will return. Instead she spots Captain Jared Mitchell in a small whaleboat. Jared had his crew put him out to sea with nothing more than a couple of bottles of whiskey, intending to die at sea. He’s nearly succeeded when the boat washes ashore near Truro.
Rachel and her family take him in and nurse him back to health. During this time Jared, who is still mourning the loss of his wife and daughter years before, can’t help but lose his heart to Rachel’s precious five year old daughter Belle, as well as becoming attracted to Rachel. Rachel fights the growing feelings between them because she believes there’s a chance Richard is alive and will return. She also doesn’t believe a successful sea captain can truly give up the sea for life in her boring village.
Jared is a classic tortured hero: tall, dark, handsome, has a death wish. He blames himself for the death of his young wife and baby daughter. He took them to sea with him and allowed them on deck, where they were splashed with boiling tar and died as result of the burns. Since the sea didn’t kill him, nor did constant drunkenness, he decided to take matters into his own hands. Fortunately almost of all this happens before the book begins. By the time the reader meets Jared he’s decided he’s not ready to die and starts living again. Gruff as a bear to begin with, he can’t help but be generous and friendly – it’s his true nature. The best scenes though are those between Jared and Belle. The child has him wrapped around her little finger and it’s sweet to watch him try to make her happy.
Rachel is wishy-washy. She wants Jared, she doesn’t want Jared, she wants Jared, but no wait, Richard might be alive and she can’t be unfaithful. If her internal conflict weren’t enough, she has to go and eavesdrop. Hearing only part of a conversation, Rachel decides Jared doesn’t really love her: let the misunderstandings commence. What’s even more frustrating is that Rachel refuses to acknowledge her marriage was an unhappy one, and when confronted with proof that her husband wasn’t quite the man she thought he was, she still rebuffs Jared out of loyalty to Richard.
Rachel’s parents and daughter Belle round out the cast. Belle is a typical romance novel child, too cute to be real and present only when Jared and Rachel need a reason to get along. But I liked Belle anyway. Rachel’s parents are harder to like. Their attitude towards Jared was as inconsistent as their daughter’s. They are welcoming at first, until it seems that he might marry their daughter, when they became rude. Then they’re supportive again when he admits his plans for matrimony. Jared’s family, on the other hand, was consistent and likeable in their support of his happiness.
I liked the story well enough, as long as it was focused on the interaction between Jared and Rachel and their internal conflict while they tried to move on with their lives and love. As a tale of moving on after the death of a spouse and learning to let go of the past, it’s successful. Unfortunately, Goodger wanders away from that to an external mystery; the truth about Richard’s death seemed contrived to force Jared and Rachel together.
With a beautiful and unique setting, a likable hero, and a gentle love story, Gifts from the Sea would be a highly recommendable read. The tacked on mystery and the inconsistency of the characters’ actions, on the other hand make it tougher to enjoy.