Nearly everyone has a universally loved movie that they, however, just couldn’t stand. Mine was Sling Blade. While everyone was gushing over how touching it was, I just couldn’t get over lines like “That boy lives in his heart.” Not only do I think nobody would say something so maudlin, I also think that the line is virtually meaningless. It’s just one of those lines writers throw in because they sound really profound and affecting on the surface. Lighthouse Cove is chock full of lines just like this. Characters think this way, and they talk this way to each other. It’s supposed to be touching, but I found it annoying and manipulative.
Jack Murphy is a female photo journalist who has just lost her best friend and partner, Ziggy. As a tribute to him, she has come to Mermaid Lost, a beautiful lighthouse on the New England Coast, to photograph the place and finish Ziggy’s book about the area. The lighthouse is owned by a nosy, grandmotherly woman who wants Jack to join the real world and stop living her life through a camera lens. Jack knows that her calling in life is to photograph the shocking and horrifying events around the globe so that people back in America will understand war and poverty. She really doesn’t want to stop and smell the roses; she intends to finish the book for Ziggy and move right on.
Fate, of course, has different plans. One stormy night, a man from her past shows up at the door with his daughter. Jack can’t believe the coincidence (neither could I), and she intends to send Tom Brownlow on his way. After all, he scarred her so badly that she really hasn’t been able to get close to another man in the last eight years. Unfortunately, the storm is so bad that Tom and his daughter have to stay with Jack overnight. When she finds out that little Lucy is going blind, she feels she can’t deny Lucy the dream of getting to stay at Mermaid Lost for just a little longer.
Tom and Lucy are on a farewell journey of sorts, seeing all the important things Lucy wants to see before she goes blind. Mermaid Lost is important to her because Lucy’s mother stayed there as a child and started to write a book about it. Lucy hasn’t see her mother in years (for reasons that involve a Big Secret), but she wants to connect with her by visiting the place that figured so largely in her mother’s childhood memories. Jack has never been very interested in children, but she can’t help learning to love little Lucy, even though she knows she has no place in her life. In the background, the sexual attraction between Jack and Tom keeps simmering, and both of them can’t help wishing things were different and they could be together.
Everything else happens about like you’d imagine it, with Jack and Tom rekindling their lost love affair (albeit much later in the book than I would have thought) and everyone involved learning Important Life Lessons. All’s well that ends well – as long as you don’t mind reading a 340 page Hallmark card.
I felt some guilt over my firm dislike of this book; the reader is clearly supposed to be touched by a little girl going blind who wondered aloud if she’d still remember what colors looked like. Had I not felt that she was present only to tug at my heartstrings, I’m sure I would have felt sorry for her. And, had Lucy been the only maudlin character, the book would surely have been a more tolerable reading experience. But everyone thinks like she does, from the old n’ wise China (the lighthouse owner) to Jack and Tom. The schmaltz-o-meter hits its peak mid-book when we hear the parting words of Jack’s dying friend, who hands her his “treasures” and tells her, “This is what…hope looks like.”
The conflict between Jack and Tom might have been interesting if either of them had been likable. After all, we have a woman who is in a role more commonly seen in romance heroes – she goes off to dangerous places all the time, and her life is constantly at risk. She loves her job and doesn’t want to give it up, but Tom isn’t sure her life can fit in with his. At the end I still wasn’t sure myself, and I didn’t particularly care either way. I took a dislike to Jack early on, in no small part because I found her masculine name very distracting. Jack begins the book prickly and scarred, and not fit company for anyone. At one point she wonders to herself if she was insane for still thinking about a two week affair eight years after it was over. Had she had asked me, I would have told her yes – it was long past time for her to get over it and move on with her life. Tom is little better. He’s given to excessive brooding and guilt over his actions in the past, even though it’s mostly stuff he couldn’t help. My reaction to him was pretty much the same – get over yourself, buddy.
One of my relatives likes really sappy Hallmark cards. Knowing this, I always pick out the most flowery one I can find just for her. This book might be right up her alley. As I was reading Lighthouse Cove, I couldn’t help thinking that one reader’s schmaltz-fest is another’s touching story of love and redemption. If you are on the fence on this one, I’d recommend using the dying friend’s parting words as a litmus test: If they sound touching and full of pathos, then proceed full speed ahead. If they seem ultra-saccharine and contrived, you might want to give this book a pass.
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