Stay a Little Longer
In 2007 Nina Berman won the World Press Photo competition with the wedding portrait of Ty Ziegal and his bride Renee Kline. You can see the winning portrait here. There is another, more romantic portrait here. Be Warned, these pics have some aspects that make them a bit different from your average wedding photos. Some might call them a bit disturbing. I found them touching. And heartfelt. They seemed to convey all those things we mean when we say “Love conquers all.”
I couldn’t help but think of this love story as I read Stay A Little Longer, a story about a war vet who made some far different decisions than Ty – and who came off as far less courageous and honorable.
WWI had not been good to Rachel Watkins. Her brother in law died and her sister followed soon after. Now the war is over but the hard times remain. The boarding house Rachel runs has only one tenant, an unwashed ruffian with quick hands from whom she has to hide. It doesn’t help that the other residents are responsibilities rather than helpers; A rapscallion niece, a mother who won’t leave her room and a drunken uncle who takes pride in how much liquor he gets down in a day.
Trouble isn’t done with Rachel, though. More problems land in her lap when a stranger shows up needing care and the town’s banker determines he needs her land. As she fights to hold on to the only home she has ever known she can not help but wonder if the sick stranger she is caring for is a friend or foe. Has her knight in shining armor finally shown up? Or is this man just another devil in disguise?
Garlock is so familiar with her time period that she makes writing it look easy. Her attention to detail is astounding, and she does an incredible job of putting you in both time and place. In this book she captures perfectly the beginning of the depression, when tough times for some begin to look like they will be tough times for all. She gives us a brief glimpse of WWI and also of life on the rails, showing how hard it must have been for those living this hand to mouth existence. Little details like wash still being done by hand and people using gas lamps rather than electric light really paint a picture in the mind of how things are for the characters .
Garlock also doesn’t shy away from how being in a certain time and place can make life tough on people. Her characters are rarely the rich and powerful; she focuses on men and women who live off the land or in small towns, most of them struggling just to make ends meet. In this case, the heroine is grappling to keep a roof over her family’s head and some food on the table. Rachel isn’t a blissful martyr, though, and while that was sometimes hard to read it also made her more real. I appreciated the fact that she knew life had dealt her a less than perfect hand through no real fault of her own. She wasn’t always perfectly likable but she was such a fully realized character you couldn’t help but be intrigued by her story.
The sick stranger however was more caricature than character. He had been riding the rails since the war, letting family and friends think he was dead. While that was a tough existence, I felt it was one he chose from cowardice rather than need. His reasoning was that no one should have to look upon the scarred visage that resulted from a bombing during the war. This seemed selfish and shallow, since the wounds were all cosmetic and didn’t affect his ability to be the same person he had been prior to his injury. The author took great pains to paint him as a saint before he was scarred but I wasn’t buying it for a minute. A person of strong character can be damaged by many things, but they normally don’t go into hiding because one side of their face has a series of scars on the cheek. He wasn’t hero material for me even a little bit.
The way he fits into the family once he is well surprised me. I honestly expected more anger from people once it was revealed who he was. However, everyone in town seems to forgive the trouble he has caused by being absent. This added to the feeling of his being a cardboard cutout rather than a 3D being. Add that to the fact that we didn’t see any growth in his character to explain his good/bad/good changes, and he came across as less than well thought out to me.
The villain was completely over the top as well as unnecessary. I think he was put there to show us how glad everyone would be to have the hero back. While the hero certainly compared favorably to him, given how evil the villain was that didn’t exactly impress me.
This book also shows a bit of how having a favorite child can affect the whole family. You couldn’t help but think that if the two deaths that had occurred were not Rachel’s sister Alice and her husband Mason but rather Mason’s younger brother and Rachel, life would have gone on pretty much as before. I admired Rachel for not letting that embitter her but would have liked to have seen the theme explored a bit more. Did the sins of the parent set in motion all the tragedy that had held the town in its grip for eight years? I can’t help but think they were a contributing factor. I didn’t feel like I saw a lot of remorse from the people involved and that rankled a bit.
I also didn’t buy the love story here. There weren’t any moments that I could point to and think “That’s when they fell in love”. Or even just think “That must be when they first knew there was something between them.” I sensed no passion or heat, just convenience.
In the end, Garlock’s smooth writing style and devotion to historical detail make this book very easy and interesting reading. However, as a romance novel it fails to pluck at the heart strings.