by Emily March, contemporary (2011)
Ballantine, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-345-51838-5
Heartache Falls is that rare romance novel that dares to tackle what happens twenty years down the road after a happy ending, when the kids are all grown and the couple realize that, well, the magic is gone. Perhaps this one is more mainstream fiction than romance if we go by the definition of a romance novel, but don't worry, there is nothing icky like infidelity here.
Ali Timberlake and her husband Mac have been married for over twenty years. They have two sons and a daughter and, on the surface, they are one happy family. The children are all well-adjusted sorts and they are on speaking terms with their parents, Mac is a well-respected judge, and Ami is... well, desperately unhappy. With Caitlin heading off to college, Ami is feeling very alone. After so many years of being a mother, she doesn't know what to do anymore, and you know how it is: when she doesn't have much to do, she thinks of the things she had given up to become a mother, and it's all downhill from there. Worse, Mac is always so busy, and his taking her for granted is accentuated by his casual and occasionally cruel dismissal of her concerns.
All it takes is one small incident to light her fuse - Mac asking her whether she wants some eggs when he's supposed to know all along that she's allergic to them - and she's had enough. She packs her bags and heads off to Eternity Springs, to stay with some friends while she decides what to do with herself. Mac tries - and fails - to use the classic "Think about our children!" excuse to get her to stay, and fed up with what he perceives to be his wife's drama queen antics, he goes out and buys himself a Porsche. Men... sigh. Unsurprisingly, his children start to believe that Mac is having an affair.
Heartache Falls is not an easy read, as Ms March manages to do a pretty good job in capturing how a happy couple can sometimes drift apart until one day, they wake up and realize that they have grown so far apart that they have no idea how to reconnect anymore. Of course, with this a romance novel, it's far easier to heal all wounds than it would be in real life, but this story still manages to capture the painful process in a hard-hitting manner. There are no heroes or villains here - Mac isn't entirely in the wrong, just as Ali isn't entirely in the right. They just need to find a way to reconnect again, and that's what this story is all about. Both Ali and Mac are flawed, and I like that these two have to make some compromises and, more importantly, let go of the things that are in the way of their happiness in order to have a second chance at a happily ever after.
While for the most part this story is cathartic reading, the author manages to dilute the emotional impact of her story by going down that unfortunate route where the characters start having sex as a short cut plot device to hasten the rekindling of those burning feelings. I can't help feeling that the author is taking the easy way out here. Also, the last third or so of the story is silly as Mac's big secret comes back to haunt him just as he's finally doing well with Ali. And it's such a silly secret, even Ali laughs at his face when the secret is revealed. Poor Mac - he is all puffed up, expecting a dramatic fallout from the wife, only to have Ali tell him to stop being a drama queen.
Heartache Falls delivers some pretty good emotional drama at the end of the day. I like it.
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