Sunday Kind of Love
Dorothy Garlock, master of heartwarming heartland-based mid-century romances, returns with her fifty-fifth book, the post-World War II centered Sunday Kind of Love.
Gwen Foster is an Indiana girl searching for just the right kind of love. Home to visit her family in Buckton, this trip will represent something special and new to her; she’ll be introducing her boyfriend Kent Brookings to her parents. Kent, an ambitious and snobbish lawyer, is so committed to his work that Gwen often feels the latest case takes precedence over their love life. That he doesn’t support her dream of becoming a novelist only puts further strain on their relationship. Gwen is shocked when her folks team up with Kent to plan a wedding without even bothering to consult her – and without Kent even proposing to Gwen first – less than a day into their trip. Inspired by the sudden appearance of her fast-moving and still single Aunt Samantha, she demands time to think.
Trying to place distance between herself and Kent’s pushiness, Gwen storms away from home and manages to fall into a river while trying to save her beloved idea-filled notepad. Luckily, she is rescued by woodworker Hank Ellis.
Hank has his own set of serious problems. He’s been ostracized by most of Buckton under the false belief that he’s responsible for the drunk driving accident that took the life of his little brother, Pete. Hank is still dealing with his father’s abusive alcoholism along with the town’s almost violent shunning on a daily basis, and the trauma has coalesced in his mind to give him frequent nightmares. He’s seen Gwen from a distance for most of his life, but the sight of her post-collegiate beauty stirs new emotions in him.
Sadly, even Gwen’s good-hearted parents think Hank is a monster, so they urge her to stay away from him. But when Kent leaves the trip early to attend to a promising case and refuses to take a still-injured Gwen with him, she decides to pursue her writing gifts – and to give Hank her thanks. They hit it off and start spending time together.
As Gwen and Hank grow closer, they foster the dreams each secretly holds. Hank believes in Gwen’s authorial ambitions and she believes in his innocence. His encouragement leads her to a job at the local paper and she pulls him out of his months-long funk. Eventually the need to uncover the truth behind Pete’s death drives her toward a pursuit of justice for Hank. The more time Gwen spends in Buckton, the more life as a Chicago sophisticate seems less palatable. Kent isn’t about to give her up easily, but ultimately Gwen must decide for herself where – and with which man – she truly belongs, and if she possesses the sterner stuff a reporter needs in order to survive.
I’ve been reading Ms. Garlock’s work since I was a teenager, back when she was regularly publishing historical westerns. Since that time she’s settled into a comfortable groove – publishing not only more historicals but a long string of Americana novels focusing on post-war romances set in small Midwestern towns. Sunday Kind of Love adds another title to her long backlist, and does what the author continues to do best – write engaging stories with fully rounded-out settings. She’s honed her skills to a sharp point after years behind the keyboard, and there’s a comforting sense of professionalism to her prose.
Gwen feels vividly alive and passionate, and while the plot occasionally throws her the idiot ball in an attempt to extend itself, she doesn’t hold it for long; she quickly develops a backbone and keeps it. Hank is rather thoroughly wrapped up in his self-pity to start with – understandably so, yet his constant moping has a tendency to grate until Gwen gets him to open up. But together, they embark on a healthy, adult romance, one filled with conversations and breezy bonding that’s sweet and easy to enjoy, laced through with the angst of their past hurts. It’s fun to watch them bond.
Most of the supporting characters are enjoyable. In fact, perhaps my favorite Garlock-penned secondary character of all time, gangly money-hungry, Skip Young, gambols through this book with a laid-back sense of humor and grit, providing Hank with a best friend and much needed sounding board.
The worst aspect of the book is undeniably Kent. Garlock’s weakest point has always been her hammy, over-the-top villains, and Kent is no exception to the rule. She tries to build up a realistic triangle in the early parts of the book but that’s dashed within the first eighty pages when he colludes with Gwen’s parents to arrange their wedding ‘for her own good’. A secondary villain proves just as obvious, and his presence in the plot follows Ebert’s law of Economy Characters to the letter. The resolution to the Pete sub-plot is also a weak point. After all of that struggle and all of that angst the true culprit capitulates with such ease; I expected a longer, stronger fight.
The author does her job in her typically smooth fashion and the result is another solid, touching romance laced through with flickers of tension and character building. Sunday Kind of Love is a solid beach read and another strong addition to the Garlock canon.