Love in the Afternoon
Confucious said that “To go beyond is as wrong as to fall short.” In Love in the Afternoon author Karen Hawkins tries to deliver a short story full of quirky sweetness, but misses the mark just a hair by adding a touch too much of the quirky.
Jake Klaine sees dead people. He’s been talking to ghosts since he was a small boy and for the work-from-home IT whiz and game developer, they can be good company. In fact, he often likes them more than the living – although his newest haunt is the exception to the rule. His deceased neighbor seems to have taken up near permanent residence in Jake’s guest bathroom and has been demanding a lot of his attention, pretty much ruining the morose self-pity Jake has been indulging in since his fiancée ditched him.
Sofia Rodriquez’s ship has finally come in. After years of bad luck, the young widow has been given a dream job as greenhouse manager for a booming herbal tea business. Not only does the position allow Sofia to make use of her gardening skills but it means she doesn’t have to pay for baby-sitting for ten-year-old Noah, who is autistic. Making her joy complete is the charming farmhouse she’s renting that sits right in front of the greenhouses; the rent is cheap and its close proximity to work means an insanely short commute for her and even more time to spend with Noah. The only potential downside to the situation is that the home next door is overrun with a species of rather aggressive rose bushes but that’s fine by Sofia. She likes having the thorny hedge between her and her neighbor.
Everything is working out beautifully till the day young Noah steps off the bus and bangs on the door of their neighbor’s rose-encrusted cottage. Turns out he was challenged by the boys on the bus to find out about Jake’s hermit-like existence and his disorder prevented him from realizing this was a cruel prank at his expense. Jake is rather bemused by having the boy show up on his doorstep, quickly followed by his curvaceous rather gorgeous mother. What could have been a disaster – a belligerent, ill-mannered child and a firmly reclusive man – works out well, since Noah is a serious gamer and Jake needs someone to test out his latest project. The three quickly work out a deal in which Noah will play Jake’s games and Jake will teach Noah how to write/code his own VG adventures.
Sofia, feeling that Noah is definitely getting the better end of the deal and also slightly guilty about how they foisted themselves on their neighbor, decides she will spend the time Noah is at Jake’s house cooking for Jake and trimming his roses. Any self-respecting romance reader can figure out what happens from there.
But I’ll fill you in anyway. As Jake spends time with Noah, Sofia realizes that Jake’s calm, organized nature is a wonderful foil for her son. She appreciates how Jake takes the time to learn about autism and has the patience to be a kind, caring role model for her boy. Jake appreciates Sofia’s cheery nature, fantastic cooking and what a wonderful mom she is to the (mildly) challenging Noah. The three of them enjoy spending time together and both Jake and Sofia, used to being on their own for various reasons, realize that they’ve found in each other the perfect solution to loneliness. Cue hearts and violins.
I think this story would have worked out a bit better without the ghost(s) who were engaged in behind-the-scenes hijinks to turn Jake and Sofia into a couple, and the special needs nature that inspired the deus ex machina of Noah’s behaviors which aided the romance. Too many of the 126 pages of the tale were spent on dealing with Noah’s issues or talking through the romance with the spectre in the bathtub, which was unnecessary. Jake’s steady, dependable, intelligent nature was a natural fit with Sofia’s caring, warm, loving personality. The moments when she shares aspects of her Puerto Rican heritage with Jake or when he shares some of his history with her are easily the best part of the tale; the story is at its sweetest and most engaging when it concentrates on their relationship.
Love in the Afternoon is a cute, short tale meant to introduce us to the magical community of the author’s new series set in the town of Dove Pond. It tries a bit too hard at times but I think fans of the author and fans of magical surrealism romance will find it enjoyable in spite of its imperfections.