The Sweetheart Deal
Summary (from Goodreads):The poignant story of what happens when a woman who thinks she's lost everything has the chance to love again.
Leo has long joked that, in the event of his death, he wants his best friend Garrett, a lifelong bachelor, to marry his wife, Audrey. One drunken night, he goes so far as to make Garrett promise to do so. Then, twelve years later, Leo, a veteran firefighter, dies in a skiing accident.
As Audrey navigates her new role as widow and single parent, Garrett quits his job in Boston and buys a one-way ticket out west. Before long, Audrey's feelings for Garrett become more than platonic, and Garrett finds himself falling for Audrey, her boys, and their life together in Portland. When Audrey finds out about the drunken pact from years ago, though, the harmless promise that brought Garrett into her world becomes the obstacle to his remaining in it.
Review: Although the plot was predictable, I thought Dugan did a very nice job capturing the grief felt by newly widowed Audrey, and the anger and confusion felt by the fatherless boys. Her descriptions of Audrey's depression and inability to function in the days and weeks after the accident felt amazingly real. However, I thought the alternating first person narratives were needlessly confusing, and that the story would have worked better if she had focused on the points of view of fewer characters. The two younger boys didn't get nearly as much page-time, and so their stories felt incomplete. Which was actually my biggest problem with the book; the author presents a troubling issue with a character, then shows the resolution at the very end, without going through the middle steps of how the character felt as he worked through the issue. Most importantly, the romance between Audrey and Garrett moved too fast - Audrey went from non-functioning depression to falling in love in less than three months? I couldn't believe it. And while the eventual romance between the couple was beautifully rendered, I found myself still wondering WHY they had fallen in love. As smaller examples, Dugan brings up several little conflicts (Brian's guilt about his drawing, Andrew's conflict with a bully, Christopher's fixation on an inappropriate woman) and then doesn't flesh them out. Sure, the boys each have a happy ending, but what brought them to the happy ending point? It wasn't clear to me. I would be interested in reading another one of her books to see if she matures as a writer.
Rating: 3.5 stars