Cheryl Reavis is a highly acclaimed author about whom I’ve heard nothing but good things. I’m going to have to assume most of her books are better than her latest, Medicine Man, because this disjointed, uninvolving read is hardly impressive.
At her sister Kate’s wedding, Arley Meehan encounters Army Specialist Will Baron, a medic who works at the base with her sister. They met once before, and she appreciated that he was kind to her young son Scottie. While they’re talking, Arley’s arrogant ex-husband Scott belligerently comes up and demands to know who Will is. Arley walks away to avoid making a scene at her sister’s reception, but later goes back and talks to Will a little more.
Shortly thereafter Will is called before his lieutenant, who orders him not to get involved with a married woman. It seems Arley’s wealthy former in-laws complained about him spending time with their son’s “estranged” wife, preventing the couple from reconciling. When Arley learns about this from Kate, she immediately wants to go see him to apologize, even though common sense would say she should leave him alone to spare him any further trouble. She goes to the base to make her apology, but instead she meets Will’s brother Patrick, who, upon learning that she’s moving, offers to help her. When Patrick informs Will that he told Arley they’d help her with the move, Will initially has no plans to do it. But when the irresponsible Patrick gets involved in an all-night poker game and is no condition to help Arley the next morning, Will steps in. Naturally this is the beginning of them spending more time together.
This is a very “quiet” book, high on character interaction and low on plot. That may not have been such a problem had I cared one bit about these people. I didn’t. I found both Will and Arley to be flat and dull. Those who’ve read Reavis’s previous books in which the characters appeared may feel differently. Evidently Will is a character who’s been seen since his childhood in several of the author’s earlier books, while the story of Arley’s sister and her husband was told in Reavis’s previous Special Edition, The Older Woman. It felt as though the author relied too much on residual fondness for these characters from previous books, because she makes little attempt to make them interesting people here. All I knew about Arley was that her ex-husband was mean and one of her sisters was rude (her two other sisters made no impression whatsoever). That really is all there is to her.
Will is slightly better, if only because he has a more intriguing background, but he’s still nowhere near as well-developed as he should be with the rich material the author has to mine. Before he enlisted in the Army, Will was a Navajo healer, yet he feels that he’s lost his way and doesn’t know who he is anymore. He also tries to reconnect with his family and deal with his heritage. This had so much potential, yet it unfolds unevenly, often becoming lost among the boring other parts of the story, and is never delved into with much depth. As a result, it never builds the power it could have. Some of the details of Will’s Native American heritage are fascinating, but Will himself is not, coming across as too bland too much of the time. Meanwhile, Reavis recounts the complicated saga of Will’s life and massive family, which explains the background for newcomers (without making it interesting) but does too little to deepen him.
The love story is very subtle, verging on nonexistent, as Will and Arley gradually spend more time together and grow closer. Then comes the moment out of nowhere when Will suddenly blurts out that he wants to marry her. And I actually exclaimed, “Whaaaaaaat?” (Yes, complete with seven a’s.) I didn’t believe for a second that they were at that place, which was especially a problem since there’s too little relationship development after that. They simply don’t spend much time together in the final third of the book, as they cope with their individual problems.
The rest of the characters are largely one-note, from the irresponsible Patrick to the nasty Scott. The subplot with Arley’s ex-husband ends in an annoyingly inconclusive manner that’s not at all satisfying, implying that everything will probably be all right without demonstrating that it will be. The very real issues involved with being in a relationship with someone who’s going to be deployed to war are ignored in one of those “We’re in love (yeah, right) and that’s all that matters; everything will work itself out” endings. Some readers may find it romantic. It struck me as simply foolish. The closing chapters should have been touching, but weren’t, largely because of my complete lack of interest in these boring characters. Medicine Man has its occasional moments, but that’s all they are: brief moments which come intermittently and pass quickly. Otherwise, the book is slow, it’s dull, and it’s just not very good.