The Sea Before Us
When I was growing up, one of the movies often watched at my home was The Longest Day, an epic WWII film starring classic cinema stars John Wayne, Sean Connery and Henry Fonda. Using quasi-documentary style storytelling, the film dramatizes the events of the Battle of Normandy and a small part of what happened during that historic military assault. With The Sea Before Us, Sarah Sundin begins a new series documenting the lives and loves of three brothers who will take part in that heroic struggle.
It had been meant to be a fun family outing for Wyatt, his brother Adler and Adler’s fiancée along with youngest brother Clay and Clay’s girlfriend Ellen. They are heading to a favorite location for a picnic when tragedy strikes: Oralee falls to her death while trying to settle an argument between Adler and Wyatt. Immediately afterwards, Wyatt flees town, taking the cash his family had recently withdrawn to pay for Clay’s college education. Several years later, he finds himself in London, a naval officer who hasn’t seen or spoken to any of his relatives in years.
Dorothy Fairfax has experienced more than her share of tragedy. Her mother died in the Blitz, her brothers have both been killed in action, and her father is dying of grief right before her eyes. Her job as a Wren brings her comfort by helping her to feel she is doing her part. She’s good at her job, which involves comparing reconnaissance photos with thousands of family vacation pictures of France in order to create accurate maps of Normandy. It is at work – at the Allied Naval Expeditionary Force Headquarters – that Dorothy first meets Wyatt. He s part of a team creating naval bombardment plans based on the geographical information Dorothy and her group work so hard on. While Wyatt is struck with Dorothy’s beauty and vivacity from the start, her heart and mind are preoccupied by an old friend who has recently come back into her life.
When Wyatt sees Dorothy carrying a heavy basket of groceries home one Sunday afternoon, he offers to help her to the door. Her father greets them in the foyer and takes an immediate liking to Wyatt, inviting him in for dinner. In fact, everyone in Dorothy’s life takes a liking to Wyatt, from her friends to the family dog. Everyone except her, since she is doggedly pursuing a relationship with the exciting and daring old friend who has come back into her life. But as she spends more and more time with Wyatt, and more time with the old friend she comes to one startling conclusion: only one of those men actually cares about her – and it’s not the one she’s had a crush on for years.
Ms. Sundin writes books that capture the spirit of the old campy WWII movies from the fifties and sixties. Her men are all brave, stalwart, salt-of-the-earth style heroes who treat their loves like ladies and use terms like “swell” with gleeful abundance. Her heroines are all ‘nice’ girls who would never dream of abandoning the straight and narrow. There is a great deal of cheesiness and drama to the tales, but just as in those old films, that is a large part of the book’s appeal.
In this case, the drama comes in a myriad of forms. The characters have troubles at the office from commanding officers and co-workers who behave in highly un-professional ways. Then there is the tangle that is their own love life: Dorothy has a hard time giving up the crush that has been the source of her fantasies for years because her mother had previously encouraged that infatuation. For his part, Wyatt feels like he always falls for a girl who is already in love with someone else. He’s tired of playing second fiddle but can’t seem to help himself. Then there is the turmoil surrounding the Fairfax family company, which has been left to flounder while Dorothy’s dad wallows in his misery. And it wouldn’t be a Sundin novel if our hero and heroine weren’t knee deep in spiritual conundrums as well. In this case, Dorothy is struggling with being loved – both by the people around her and by God, whom she feels has pretty much destroyed her family. Wyatt struggles with deep guilt for his part in the accidental death of the girl back home. In spite of his genuine faith in God’s forgiveness, he struggles to forgive himself.
The fact that the romance in the story stays on course in spite of all the turmoil is a testament to the author’s writing. She uses the friends-to-lovers trope to good advantage here, showing us how we can miss something wonderful that is right in front of us as well as how a relationship can turn from friends who know each other well to a full blown romance once the blinders have fallen off. When Wyatt and Dorothy finally realize they are perfect for each other and work out all the problems that might have kept them apart it is the end of the story, but the reader still feels satisfied because the author has done a lot of relationship building throughout the book.
The one flaw with the novel is that in the midst of all this drama there’s a war going on. Not just a war but both these people are deep in the heart of plans for the attack on Normandy. I struggled to believe that they had quite as much free time as the book depicted.
People looking for a luscious love story won’t find it in The Sea Before Us. Those looking for a genuine friends-to-lovers romance and who enjoy campy tales of daring-do however will find exactly what they are looking for in this sweet, sassy, fun, and occasionally reverent Inspirational Romance.