The Way Back Home
The author’s strong writing and storytelling skills are overshadowed by the timing of the love affair, the length of the time the characters actually spend together, and ambivalence about their actions. As a result, The Way Back Home by Barbara Freethy, a new-to-me author, turned out to be only a slightly above average read for me.
Alicia Hayden and her family have been in the business of providing white-water rafting adventures for over sixty years but now their business is in jeopardy. Six months ago she and her dad took her best friend’s fiancé Brian and a group of his friends on an all-day trip along class four and class five rapids. The morning run went well but by that afternoon with higher winds, the river was running faster. After hitting an area called the roller-coaster chute, Alicia’s father is thrown out of the canoe. Shock slows down Alicia’s reaction, and soon her canoe is airborne and she is in the water fighting for her life. Brian. who was in her canoe, is knocked out and dragged over the falls and his body is not recovered until the next day.
Rumors and innuendos begin immediately, with people saying the rafts were under-inflated, and that they should have cancelled after discovering the speed of the river. Even with their solid reputation the speculation of possible negligence would be enough to cause some fall off in the business, but now they are also contending with Wild River Tours, a national chain that has moved into the area. Alicia’s hope that her brother Rob, with his charismatic charm and likeability, could turn the tide is cruelly shattered with his death six days before his discharge from the Marine Corp.
Three years ago during their one-week Christmas furlough Rob’s friend Gabe Ryder came for a visit, and he and Alicia had an immediate visceral attraction to each other. After a futile attempt to keep to keep it light they spent one night together. Gabe left without a word because he knew he wasn’t the man for her. Now, as a single mother raising a young son and trying to keep the family business from crumbling, she needs someone who knows family life, not someone raised in foster care. Gabe’s only back now because three days before his death, Rob elicited a promise from him that if he didn’t make it then Gabe would take his place in helping Alicia save the family business. But it’s not going to be that easy because someone wants to make sure that the Haydens never get out on the water again.
I had ambivalent feelings about both Alicia and Gabe. Upon meeting Gabe for the first time since her brother’s death she re-introduces him to her father by stating “This is Gabe Ryder, Rob’s best friend. The man who was supposed to be watching his back. The man who let Rob get killed.” Later she again tries to antagonize him by asking how come another soldier was injured, her brother was killed, but he escaped. While I can completely understand thinking of the unfairness, actually saying this seems crass.
Gabe fell hard for Alicia three years ago but his excuse for leaving without a word was feeble. The “I am not good enough for you, it’s not you, it’s me, and you deserve better” train of thought just reminds me of excuses guys use when they are not into a woman. Plus in my mind there is no justification for the cowardly way he left.
Throughout the book, the twin bond between Alicia and Rob is emphasized over and over but Alicia shows more anger than anguish. Intellectually I know that people grieve differently but emotionally I am stymied by preconceived ideas of how someone should grieve. Embarking on a love so soon after the death of a close one isn’t one of them. I certainly can accept the concept of strong bonds growing during this time. But believing that an individual is in a good place to make a commitment after knowing each other less than three weeks really stretches my ability to suspend belief.
The book is fast-paced and a lot happens in a short period of time. While the locale is small-town America I found it completely believable. There is an interesting secondary plot involving Alicia’s best friend and Brian’s fiancée Kelly as she comes to terms with his death.
If you are a big fan of Ms. Feethy’s books or don’t think that these issues are stumbling blocks to your enjoyment, then you will like this book more than I did.