The One You Can't Forget
School shooting survivor Rebecca Lindt has professional success as a divorce attorney, but personally, she’s lonely, and beginning to break down from trauma she hasn’t fully addressed. Meanwhile, chef Wes Garrett lost everything in a divorce in which Rebecca represented his ex-wife, and is now an impoverished culinary instructor. When Wes saves her from a mugging, Rebecca recognizes him, but Wes just sees an attractive stranger. Will this damaged couple help each other, or will the pressure of a relationship on top of their existing problems prove too much?
While I appreciated that the author doesn’t let the identity secret drag on and on, I wish she’d handled Wes’s divorce differently. He isn’t blameless, but it turns out his ex-wife deceived Rebecca to help her create a case (that’s not a spoiler; it happens quite early). I felt like he got over his anger towards Rebecca too quickly, especially considering that his divorce ruined him financially and drove him to alcoholism. There were lots of ways this could have been made this more complex. Make him drink earlier? Show Rebecca reassessing a present case in light of the mistake she made in the past? As it is, the plot would have been unchanged if Wes had been a total stranger saving Rebecca, and combined with another coincidence, it makes the level of contrivance in the book a little high.
I liked Wes as a teacher. The book does not sentimentalize his work with troubled kids, which is easy to do. When Wes laughs off burning demonstration French toast while daydreaming about Rebecca, it not only makes him believable as a popular teacher, but also shows the reader that culinary instruction is a better, healthier place for him than the restaurant world that brought out a violent temper. As for Rebecca, she’s a very effective divorce attorney (I loved the opening scenes of her managing a negotiation). The author authentically represents that the quest to make law firm partner devours time; if Rebecca wants it, she probably can’t date Wes and do charity work with his school program and support her father’s political campaign at the level he wants. However, some dramatic career changes she plans later in the book seemed unlikely to me. I’m not a lawyer, but if you are, I suspect you’ll have some quibbles here.
I loved how this book embraces therapy. So many times, love is presented as a panacea for horrific trauma; in this book, it’s more like Wes’s love is Rebecca’s medical assistance device – not a cure, but a cane, perhaps, that supports her as she moves forward. Wes takes care of her after a panic attack and encourages – but doesn’t force – Rebecca to seek help. Wes hears her worst secret and forgives her – and then supports her going to therapy to work through it. The forgiveness itself isn’t a miracle cure. Hooray! On the other hand, Wes had a bad childhood – which he repeatedly states doesn’t compare with Rebecca’s. I wasn’t confident Wes was getting enough help, and I didn’t think it needed to be framed as a contest.
The worst part of this book, by far, is the climax. Rebecca is forced to confront her trauma in a way that requires the police involved to violate just about every procedure ever devised. It is not only unrealistic, but it undermines the therapy message I liked so much by suggesting that the best way to get over a past trauma is to become involved in a new one that has a better ending.
I ought to mention the sex scenes, and that’s just how they felt – like an obligation. I didn’t feel chemistry and I didn’t feel personality. You could have dropped these into other books with different names and they would fit in. Loren wrote sizzling, personal scenes I enjoyed in another book I reviewed for AAR (Loving You Easy), so it surprised me that these felt so bland.
Overall, The One You Can’t Forget is a competent book with some positive messages about what love can and can’t be expected to do or fix. I wouldn’t call it suspense, but it has some suspense elements that may expand the range of people who find it enjoyable. I will definitely read Roni Loren again.