All of us ask favors from others. Simple ones from strangers like, “Hold the door, please!” or bigger ones from family and friends which can involve anything from helping us move to letting us move in. But are there some favors that shouldn’t be asked? Are there others which we would never grant? This book explores the idea of dark favors and which requests draw lines we should never cross.
Janelle Decker was a rebellious teen whose mother, when at wits end, sent her to spend her high school years with her grandmother. It had been that or reform school. In spite of the circumstances that landed her there Janelle thoroughly enjoyed her stay, until events drove her away shortly after high school graduation. She has never returned.
She is returning now, young son in tow, to serve as caregiver to her Nan (grandmother). Nan is dying and needs a live in nurse/housekeeper. The aunts and uncles have agreed to pay Janelle to both take care of their sick mother and to spruce up the house for the time when Nan is gone and it will need to be sold. Janelle, who works in real estate, seems perfect for this job to them.
Janelle finds it a bit tougher than she expected. Nan really does need near constant watching and the house really is falling apart. Adding to her stress level is the neighbors. The Tierney boys had been her friends during her growing up years but a memory between them now keeps her from being friends with all but mentally damaged Andy. Yet it is sexy Gabe, the eldest and most dangerous of the boys who holds her interest and has her longing to heal what is behind them.
There were many things that fascinated me about this book. One was the excellent job done of describing the role of caregiver. Nan could be cranky and childlike. There were times when she was up all hours of the night. She did things, such as putting dirty dishes in the cupboard and throwing away food, that made life with her difficult. I appreciated the fact that the author didn’t just gloss over this plot point but showed us just how it affected Janelle’s life..
The author also showed the difficulties of moving your child to a new school and the challenges of single parenting. Janelle was bounced between the two roles of caregiver and showed just how difficult it was to manage both her young son and her aging relative, as well as all the everyday things life throws at you. I appreciated also that Janelle wasn’t a Mary Sue character. She didn’t handle everything well – there were incidents in both caregiver positions where Janelle screwed up a bit and had to fix messes.
I also loved that these were such solidly working class characters. No one showed up with a bunch of money to solve anyone’s problems. Janelle wore jeans and tees, drove a beat up car, drank local beer. She didn’t launch a successful home business in months like so many heroines do. Struggles – monetary, emotional, physical – were going to be a part of her life and she knew that and accepted it.
I had a great deal of trouble, though, with what Janelle accepted from Gabe. Not only was the favor asked way back in the day pretty darn demeaning, but he continues to treat her carelessly in the present. Any efforts in their relationship toward kindness and bringing it above the sexual level lie with Janelle. I kept wanting to tell her, “He’s just not that into you. Move on.” I was depressed not that she hadn’t found a rich prince charming, but that she couldn’t even find a guy who would buy a gas station bouquet of flowers and tell her she brightened his day. In fact, I didn’t get a feeling of love from either character, just a simple sense of resignation that as damaged as their lives were they couldn’t hope for better than a subpar affair.
Also difficult was the running theme of bad fathers – and how to handle them – that permeated the book. Gabe’s dad is an abusive SOB who not only sexually molests his kids but harms them physically and emotionally. That Gabe still takes care of him because he has no one else seems sort of shocking on the one hand. On the other, it gives Gabe the chance to continue to berate him and that might be a part of some deep psychological need Gabe has. What concerned me though was that both the sons think the father’s molestation would continue if allowed. There is one particularly disturbing scene with Janelle’s son that had me wondering why they didn’t do more to make sure Mr. Tierney was confined. I just wasn’t comfortable with how things were being handled.
On the flip side of that we have Janelle, who had a neglectful but not abusive father. She not only cuts the man from her life but her experiences with her father lead her to not even give her son’s dad a chance. I know the secret baby aspect can be a hot button issue for some and that is certainly something that is a running theme in this book – the thought process seems to be that some dads don’t deserve to have their kids in their lives. I couldn’t help but question why the women chose to have relationships with these men if they were such jerks.
Speaking of hot buttons, the hero and heroine spent much of their high school time getting high and watching each other through windows. The high sensuality rating came from the things they watched. If performance sex has a certain ick factor for you this might not be a book you would enjoy.
In the end I don’t really know what to do in regards to recommending this book. I flip flopped on the grading. On the one hand it feels very much like literary fiction, dealing with dark subject matters and forcing us to think through issues we normally don’t want to contemplate. I appreciated that the author didn’t take the typical romance short cut of giving the hero and heroine dark pasts and then not dealing with it. We deal with it. And the writing is pretty good. It’s not brilliant, but definitely strong enough to carry the tale she is telling.
On the other hand the author tries to turn this into a sort of romance for Gabe and Janelle. That definitely didn’t work for me since the hero is a jerk and the “tough” Janelle lets him walk all over her. She may, occasionally, make some smart mouthed comment to show she can give as good as she gets, but really, she doesn’t give anywhere near what she takes. And she gives until it hurts, recuperates with a sulk, and then gives again. That is not my definition of “giving as good as you get.”
I also didn’t really like the ending. I felt the author let us see the darker side of life but never had a purpose for forcing us to go there. I don’t know that either character learned anything. They were essentially the same people at the end of the book as they were at the beginning of it. I don’t mind being dragged vicariously through a character’s muck if we come out of the experience having learned something from it, but in this case there are no lessons, no epiphanies, except perhaps that of a secondary character.
The mysterious favor also has a high ick factor to it. That and the mysterious bullet injury and everything that surrounded it are what finally drove my grade down. The aspect that dealt with the psychology of twins did not work as an explanation or excuse. Ultimately, it made less sense than if she had given no explanation at all.
In conclusion, I don’t recommend but I withhold my recommendation grudgingly. The book is unique enough that I truly wish the author had succeeded in pulling off such an ambitious project.