The Last Good Man
I love Kathleen Eagle. I know of no romance author who creates more realistic, genuine characters, and she has a witty, introspective prose style that is uniquely her own. The Last Good Man tells the story of a rather difficult character’s very difficult struggle. Eagle makes it look easy.
Savannah Stephens was a wild and beautiful teenager who went on to model lingerie in the slick pages of an expensive mail-order catalog. Everyone in her hometown of Sunbonnet, Wyoming avidly followed her career, and everyone was curious when she dropped out of the limelight for several years. (Or as Eagle puts it, “Then suddenly she’d vanished…as though somebody had thrown a coat over her and dragged her back into the house.” Did I mention that I love the way she writes?)
Now Savannah is back in Sunbonnet, and she’s a mess. She’s been sick, and she has no guarantee that her illness won’t come back. She’s got scars on the body that used to be the focus of her career. She has a young daughter who needs more care and attention than Savannah has been able to provide. She has no income, no job, no skills, and a serious case of clinical depression. When she comes home to Sunbonnet, she crawls into bed and stays there.
Clay Keogh is a rancher who never got over his love for Savannah. The new Savannah is very different from the one he made out with when they were teenagers, and he’s perplexed but captivated by her. This book is about how Clay gets to know Savannah again, gently pries her loose from her denial and isolation and shame, and helps make her whole again.
Savannah, like many people who are overwhelmed by unhappiness, is not always an easy character to like. I respect that about her; she’s not so much a heroine as a real person. She’s sexually needy but emotionally withdrawn; she vacillates from loving generosity to bristling wariness in the blink of an eye. She draws on Clay’s strength, often giving nothing in return. After what she sees as the loss of her beauty, she becomes incredibly insecure. Sometimes I wanted to shake her, but I always believed in her.
As for Clay – oh, my. Clay is definitely a hero, drawn on a real-life scale. He doesn’t fight duels or foil terrorist plots, but he gets Savannah to go to the doctor when she doesn’t want to. He takes her daughter to school when Savannah can’t face it, and provides the small girl with the love she needs. When Clay offers Savannah his hand he also offers his health insurance. He throws out his back the first time they make love, but he willingly shoulders the burden of all Savannah’s troubles, all in the hope that she’ll some day love him in return. Clay’s conflict is that, the more Savannah’s confidence grows, the less she needs to stay with him.
We get to know not only Savannah and Clay, but also Savannah’s aunt Billie, who raised her; Clay’s tough-as-nails mother and his quietly intelligent uncle; Savannah’s daughter, who is maybe a little too precious; and Clay’s jealous ex-wife and stepchildren, who feel supplanted when Savannah and her daughter enter his life. Clay and Savannah firmly hold center stage, but their relationship exists within a net of others, and that adds richness and depth to the story.
It’s very rewarding to watch the way Clay changes in Savannah’s eyes from someone to lean on into her true love. It’s also very hot. I don’t usually associate Eagle’s books with a high degree of sensuality, but this one sizzles.
This book was A+ reading until the end, which was kind of a letdown. I don’t want to give anything away, but just when I was hoping for a real emotional and sexual consummation, I didn’t get it. Eagle created in me a deep longing for these characters to find happiness together, but the way it played out was a little disappointing. This may be because this book is tailored for the straight fiction market.
Some readers might find Savannah annoying. I thought her struggle to rise above her depression was realistically portrayed, and sympathized with her even while I was shaking my head over her actions. And this book is worth reading just to meet Clay. The Last Good Man is very nearly a Desert Island Keeper, and I recommend it highly.