I have loved Jane Porter’s women’s fiction since I read the almost autobiographical Flirting with Forty and Odd Mom Out. Ms. Porter is able to convey emotions in all their raw intensity so well, she puts my heart through the wringer while also providing it solace. I cannot turn the pages of her books fast enough.
It’s You is a story within a story, one set in contemporary Napa Valley and the other in Berlin during World War II, telling of two bright, strong American women torn apart by tragedy and surviving to find a second chance.
Alison McAdams is a dedicated, well-respected dentist working in the practice owned by her fiancé’s father in Scottsdale, AZ. One evening, after a lovely day spent together, Ali goes out for ice cream leaving Andrew, home alone. She returns to find that he has hung himself from the chandelier. Despite the passage of many months, she continues to battle bone-deep sorrow and scouring rage at Andrew for not trusting her enough to tell her what was troubling him. Accompanying this maelstrom of emotions has been all-pervasive guilt. She had lived with him, worked with him, exercised with him, and slept in his bed. How did she not realize how unhappy he was?
Shortly before Andrew’s death, Ali had suffered the loss of her mother. She had been very close to her, but not to her father – whose indifference to her has hurt Ali deeply all her life – and her mother’s death has not helped to bring them together.
Not having seen Bill for six months, Ali takes three weeks off to visit him at the luxurious retirement home in which he’s living in Napa Valley. Even now, he is reluctant to have Ali there or to spend any meaningful time with her. If she wants to be with him, she has to share him with all his friends, whether it is at mealtimes or playing cards.
Among Bill’s circle of friends is Edie Stephens, a crotchety ninety-four-year-old who is Ali’s father’s bridge partner. She takes an instant dislike to Ali and feels that Ali is badgering her father by showing up every day to spend time with him. Edie likes her independence, her right to say whatever critical thing that comes to her mind and her grandnephew, Chris. Gorgeous Chris is the ultimate wealthy catch, but one who doesn’t play the field, instead spending his spare time restoring a period house and walking his drooling bulldog, when he isn’t running his winery.
As Ali spends more time with her father, she slowly comes to know Edie’s history. Edie had gone over to Germany in the late 1930s to study piano at a famous conservatory. Later, her facility with languages made her an ideal candidate for a job at the American Embassy in Berlin. At the outbreak of war, the people at the embassy were rounded up and imprisoned in a hotel by the Germans. There, Edie began a correspondence with a colonel of the Nazi party, whom she had briefly met before. Secretly, Franz was part of the small, liberal German Resistance. Franz spirits Edie out of the hotel in order to marry her, and the Americans are outraged and disgusted that Edie would choose to become a German at a time like this. Towards the end of the war, Franz is killed and Edie returns to America via Switzerland.
Ali is enthralled by the story of Edie’s life and the strength of will living that life has forged The more the women talk, the more Edie opens up to her. Ali gives in to a wild impulse to go visit Edie’s Berlin – to visit the places she remembers, where the momentous moments of her life happened, and to capture those places in photographs to share with her. It’s the impulse of the moment that is strengthened as she reflects on her relationship with Edie, the story of Edie’s heartbreak, the feeling that her own life’s heartbreak is tied to this visit, and to allow the Berlin of Edie’s life to work its magic on her own life.
It’s wonderful to see how planning Ali’s trip to Berlin and following Edie’s trip down memory lane ultimately bring the women closer to each other. Edie realizes that while Ali is confident in her intellect and work as a dentist, she in need of emotional ratification in her life. Ali, in turn, realizes that Edie’s gruff exterior hides her deep sense of loss and comes to see that gaining the trust of this fiercely independent woman is not going to be easy, and Edie’s slow but inexorable trust in Ali’s acceptance of her history without judgment is beautiful to watch.
Ms. Porter shows Ali’s emotional growth with her relationship with her father achingly well. Ali starts out as needy for his approval and love, wanting to hold on to the one person in her life she has left, and she grows to understand what he is capable of giving and is ultimately able to accept that with equanimity. This is a hard-earned poignant maturation for Ali, but ultimately, it shores up her burgeoning belief in herself.
My only problem with the book was with Edie’s story being told through her diary entries. I wish Ms. Porter had found a better way to explore that plotline in a narrative form rather than a series of short, choppy sections. The book feels bogged down by having to labor through puzzling everything out, and it breaks up the forward drive the novel possesses before this part of the story.
I find Ms. Porter’s writing brim-full of feelings, from the tempestuous to the heartwarming, from the impassioned to the touching, as she examines relationships between people from all possible facets. If you’re drawn in by stirring stories happening to ordinary people, this is a book I’m sure you will enjoy.