Where the Heart Is
I’m sure there was a very sweet love story in Where the Heart Is. The problem was that I didn’t know where to find it. Each time the hero and heroine grew closer together, their actions were again manipulated by the predictable plot, and they were thrown apart by yet another “Big Misunderstanding.” In the end, I was still searching for how Natalie and Elliott could have managed to find happiness amid their constant battles.
The book begins promisingly enough, with Natalie and Marla, childhood best friends at Ivy House Orphanage, about to be separated from each other by Marla’s impending adoption. Tears are shed, and the girls vow to remain friends even though distance will now keep them apart.
Flash forward 12 years. Natalie, now 19, has been acting as housemother of Ivy House since the previous housemother, Nelda Boone, ran off in the middle of the night. And Marla, 22, is married with a child of her own. They’ve kept their promise to remain best friends and, when Natalie receives the news that Elliott Montgomery, the inheritor of the orphanage, is coming to sell the only home that she has ever known, Marla helps her come up with a scheme to prevent the sale of Ivy House.
Or, rather, Marla comes up with several schemes, all of them melding together into a confusing pile. There’s the plan by which Natalie will dress up as Nelda and fool Elliott into thinking that the children of Ivy House have an older, more responsible housemother. And, there’s the plan where Natalie and the children of Ivy House will build enough doll houses to buy the orphanage from Elliott. And there’s the scheme where Marla decides to play matchmaker by sending Elliott’s fiance packing and fixing him up with Natalie. One of these plans might have made an engaging plot but when all three were happening at once, confusion set in. Just as I began to follow one thread of the constantly-changing plot, Marla and Natalie would put their heads together again, leaving me with no choice but to mentally drop their last plan and follow the new one to its uncertain end.
In between Marla and Natalie’s constantly-changing conspiracies, Smythe gives Natalie and Elliott just enough time to fall in love. Or do they fall in lust? I couldn’t tell, since their first kiss takes place with Natalie in her nightgown while Elliott is still engaged to another woman. Even after Elliott breaks off his engagement to the cold-hearted Suetta, the couple spend most of their time arguing. Just when there seems to be a respite in the storm, Elliott would decide to once again bring up the fact that he had to sell the orphanage, or Natalie would begin to suspect Elliott of countless lies, and the fighting would begin again. Soon, the plot was working like a two-step dance – one, two, kiss, fight, one, two, kiss, fight. Even after they finally make love, they refuse to put their differences aside. The next time they see each other, they’re at it again with very little provocation.
Also, I couldn’t help but wonder one thing about a subplot regarding Elliott and two loan sharks. If he was so afraid of what would happen if he didn’t pay the money he owed, why was he brave enough to walk into a hotel room and beat up one of the men on another matter? This was a minor plot inconsistency, but an inconsistency nontheless.
Plus, there were a few secondary plot lines that were never adequately dealt with. I finished the book with several questions. Did Marla’s adoptive parents treat her well? Will Elliott ever find out the truth about his parentage? Will Natalie ever convince the townspeople that her mother was an honorable woman? How did Jo, one of the Ivy House orphans, overcome her traumatic childhood?
The fact that I was even asking these questions showed that I did care about the characters. And, I had reason to care. Even in a book with such a large cast and uneven plot, Smythe stayed away from stereotypes and made each character seem real. Natalie, Marla, Elliott and the orphans stayed true to their personalities throughout the entire book and, in spite of the plot problems they were mired in, I enjoyed getting to know them. Even though I didn’t agree with all of their actions, I was relieved to see that Natalie and Elliott will live happily ever after. In spite of the plotting problems, I liked them enough to feel that they deserved it.
|Review Date:||May 19, 1999|