Whatever Love Means
Whatever Love Means has lovely grace notes – bits that make you sympathize with the author’s working-class heroes and heroines. But it confuses fighting with sexual chemistry and failed to convince me that its characters have fully grown up and out of their teenage conflicts, which in turn, left me in doubt of their future as a married couple.
Maggie Timbrook is about to enter into her fourth marriage after a phalanx of false starts and bad turns. The guy she’s marrying isn’t exciting but he is stalwart and dependable, and that’s good enough for her. She’d be more delighted, had she not bumped into her first husband and the man she’s never gotten over, Travis Kane, at her first dress fitting.
Travis knows it’s his fault Maggie walked out on him all those years ago – at eighteen and sixteen respectively, they were too young to be parents or spouses, and when Travis failed to deal with the PTSD from his service in Afghanistan, his nightly drinking with his friends all weighed upon Maggie. But he’s never gotten over her, and their now-teenaged daughter Carly is a rebel whose antics require them to stay in close contact no matter how much they fight.
Though Maggie’s friends all think she’s a horrible match for her new, bland fiancé, neither of them have time to confront the situation. Then Travis is run over by a car and placed in the ICU. While that proves Maggie’s still devoted to Travis, Travis pushes her away – but when he’s released, it’s into her care. When cash disappears from the till one night at Maggie’s bar, she’s worried that her mind’s playing tricks on her, but Travis is suspicious of someone very close to her. Will time convince them they belong together? Or will they forever be estranged?
Whatever Love Means is hurt by its predictability and its characters’ pigheaded stubbornness. All of the good parts within it – its spare prose, its truly fun secondary characters like Carly, its easy to sink into hometown feel – don’t add up sufficiently for me to give it a recommendation.
Maggie is supposed to come off as strong, but she breaks down at the least provocation – one of those heroines who’s ‘sassy and strong’, but desperately needs the hero when the plumbing breaks down at her bar. She kind of gets her mojo back by the end of the novel but the plot stymies her relentlessly, telling her she shouldn’t fight ‘destiny.’ She is, predictably, unable to believe Travis when the Law of Economy of characters dictates who stole that money, not that he’s given her much of a cause to believe he’s changed when he’s still acting like an ass toward her. I didn’t believe that her relationship with her fiancé was even close to being a viable option for her – the guy barely exists on page and is patently shifty, making him an obviously poor choice.
And then there’s Travis, who continues to be bullheaded and thoughtless right up until the final ten pages of the book. He’s a good dad, and his trauma makes him sympathetic, but he hasn’t learned much from it.
Together, they are a mess. Sure, the sex is great. Sure, they care about each other. Sure, they have history. But do they assume the worst of each other and push one another away when things get tough? Do they do childish things instead of respecting each other’s boundaries? Do they keep secrets from each other instead of speaking to each other maturely? Yep. Lots of yep, and it’s very annoying because they absolutely don’t grow enough from their time as mismatched teenagers glued together by hormones and banter.
Worse yet, the book gives Maggie a lovely second chance where she chooses herself – only to have Travis intervene. I know they have a romance, but a man who ignores your boundaries repeatedly is just an echo of the same man who wouldn’t hold your baby, do the dishes, or get proper therapy for his PTSD.
Whatever Love Means disappointed me, especially in light of the author’s other novels. At the end of the book, I felt as if Maggie hadn’t grown up enough to enjoy an adult relationship with Travis, and Travis was just replicating his old mistakes – an endless circle no matter how you slice it.