The Best of Us
Robyn Carr adds a new volume to her Sullivan’s Crossing series with The Best of Us.
Cool-under-pressure Doctor Leigh Culver is yearning for spring after a long winter of flu cases. She has strong relationships with all of her patients and friends in town, but when she moved from Chicago to Timberlake, Colorado, she left behind her Aunt Helen, her only blood relation. At thirty-four and never having lived independently of Helen before, Leigh decided it was time she built a life of her own, but moving so far away to join a practice has left her yearning for a family connection. She lost her mother when she was young, never knew her father and was dumped by her fiancé just days before their wedding, so it’s perhaps not surprising that Leigh has become rather reserved around anyone but Helen. Leigh doesn’t harbor romantic hopes and doesn’t tell others much about what she’s feeling. So, looking to feel a little less lonely, she invites Helen to Timberlake for a vacation.
Helen Culver gave up her life of independence to settle down in Chicago and take care of Leigh when her sister – Leigh’s mother – died. Helen never regretted foregoing her independence for Leigh’s sake, but now that her niece is grown, Helen wants to live the life she put on hold while raising Leigh. As Leigh became a rising ER doctor and then a practicing GP, Helen became a bestselling globetrotting mystery writer. She and Leigh once promised to settle down together, but the only thing Leigh wants is a family – and the only thing Helen wants is her independence. But they get together for a week’s vacation after a long separation anyway.
Fate soon intervenes. When Leigh treats Finn, the elder teenage son of Rob Shandon, a long-widowed single father who owns the bar across the street from her office, there are instant sparks for Leigh and Rob. And when Leigh takes Helen to visit nearby Sullivan’s Crossing for a hike up the Continental Divide, Helen takes to a handsome, sweet older gentleman named Sully, who runs the town’s all-purpose store and loves nature as much as she loves the written word and sleeping in.
As time goes by, Leigh begins to evolve into her own woman, and Helen begins to grow her own roots in Sullivan’s Crossing. But just when it seems that everything is going to work out nicely, Finn’s girlfriend, Maia, is diagnosed with a brain tumor, Leigh’s ex resurfaces and asks her if she’d like to get back together, and another, much more permanent complication rises to threaten Leigh and Rob’s relationship. Will Leigh allow love into her life? Will Helen settle down with Sully? Will Maia survive?
Folksy and quiet are two ways to describe The Best Of Us. It’s sleepy, but that’s no insult; comforting and easy to slip into as a well-worn robe, it’s a fine slice of women’s fiction that serves as a warm and easygoing character study. It’s very well-written and very comfortable, and is populated with people who will feel familiar to you. But it does move in a very slow way that might cause some readers to doze.
Helen and Leigh are human, flawed and understandable, two nice people just trying to live their lives. I liked the way Leigh and Rob handled their relationship – like actual mature adults who’ve been around the block a few times. And Rob is that rare romance widower, one who absolutely loved her wife, is haunted by her death, and has PTSD-related trauma related to it. He and Leigh have real problems and actually speak to each other about them.
Helen and Sully, meanwhile, have a wonderfully sassy relationship; Helen’s delightfully acerbic and Sully’s more of a golly-gee salt of the earth type, so they make a fine contrast.
The bittersweet love story between Finn and Maia feels very true to life and provides the fulcrum through which the tri-generational relationships of The Best of Us are reflected.
While there are a couple of plot points I wasn’t wild about – notably, the unnecessary intrusion of Leigh’s ex into the picture, and a moment where Leigh and Rob discuss a spoilery plot point that feels shortsighted and preachy – the worst sin of The Best of Us commits is its predictability. But that’s more of a feature than a flaw; you know what’s going to happen when you read a nice, cozy novel like this, and what the story beats are going to be. But overall The Best of Us is a perfectly sweet, perfectly nice novel. A warm bath in the dead of winter that will keep the reader feeling cozy and keep them smiling.