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Monday, September 03, 2007

Love Walked In A Novel With Heart

After 31 years of unremarkable living, pint-sized Cornelia Brown is ready for a little drama. So, when Martin Grace, a debonair Cary Grant clone, walks into the coffee shop she manages, she embraces the winds of change that seem to blow in with him. Martin is, after all, movie star perfect. Okay, he's older, emotionally distant and not that great in bed, but Cornelia really wants to be in love with him. Before she has time to contemplate their relationship further, Martin re-enters the shop with a child in tow. A child who, in Cornelia's opinion, "[looks] fierce and furious and terrified and bottomlessly sad. No one would need to ask this girl if her heart had been broken" (97). Turns out, the girl is Clare, Martin's 11-year-old daughter. A daughter Martin has never mentioned and clearly has very little to do with. Because she so obviously needs it, Cornelia enfolds the child in her arms. Later, she learns that Clare's mother, Viviana, has deserted her daughter, flitting off to Barcelona with no explanation. Cornelia immediately takes the girl under her wing, causing the awkward Martin tremendous relief. Adding "bad father" to her growing list of reasons she can't be with Martin, Cornelia throws her efforts into healing Clare. Cornelia, along with her brother-in-law, Teo, create an unlikely "family" for the child, who comes to trust them more than her own parents. While the three are content with the arrangement, they know it can't last. And it doesn't. Tragedy strikes, leaving Clare's future in further jeopardy. Cornelia's bond with Clare is so strong, she can't bear the thought of losing the girl, a separation that is heartbreaking, but inevitable. In the end, Cornelia must decide just how far she's willing to go not only for the love of a man, but also for the love of a child.

This is the essence of Marisa de los Santos' remarkable novel, Love Walked In. Both Cornelia and Clare narrate the story, each in their own way: Cornelia rambles conspiratorially, while Clare speaks cautiously, seeming to weigh each word. The result is a rich, multi-layered story that is at once heartbreaking and heartwarming. I ached for Clare, cheered for Cornelia, loathed Martin, and fell helplessly in love with Teo. The characters are that real. It was impossible to put the book down and abandon them. The plot had enough twists and turns to keep me reading and guessing. Although it's a sad story in so many ways, hope and love triumph in the end.

I did have a few issues with this book - when do I not? For one, I got a little irritated with Cornelia. While her voice is conversational and funny, she also tends to ramble and overanalyze. I think she has a bit of the Sammy Joyce syndrome (see review here) - de los Santos has tried so hard to make Cornelia lovably quirky that, after awhile, she just ends up being annoying. Also, I think several of the plot twists were unrealistic. I won't elaborate, because I don't want to give away any of the surprises, but some of them were just way too convenient. I found this especially interesting, since de los Santos went out of her way to make sure other elements of the story, like Teo's Filipino heritage, were authentic (She describes the tradition of "blessing" one's elders in a way I've experienced in The Philippines, but never seen described in literature). I also wish I could recommend this book as a clean read, but it's liberally sprinkled with the F-word and sexual references (although no graphic sex).

All in all, though, I really enjoyed this book. It's a novel with heart, and it will absolutely steal yours.

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