The point of joining a bookgroup is to read stuff that you may not usually read, getting the ideas of others to broaden your reading list and maybe even some ideas for other authors to investigate. The description of the book 16 Lighthouse Road by Debbie Macomber had a lot of potential. A county court judge, Olivia Lockhart, refuses a young couple a divorce on the grounds that they had had everything against them and hadn’t had the chance to try to make it work. The young couple had a miscarriage whilst the husband was away with the Navy and unable to return home. By the time he did returned it seemed too late.
What I expected was a decent exploration of the nature of marriage with deep well-rounded characters who investigated their own flaws and had a thoughtful sense of development. I was wrong.
There are a number of things wrong with this book. Firstly, it is not written particularly well. Even from the title, I was expecting much of the setting of the book to be based in 16 Lighthouse road, perhaps with a description of the house and area and history of what that house meant to those that live there. This didn’t happen. It seems that the title is simply a mechanism to create a series of books (There is a sequel based around one of the characters in this book called 104 Rosewood Lane).
More importantly, much of the dialogue is clichéd and the narrator’s description of the characters’ internal voices is poor – particularly when writing from the point of view of the male characters. They don’t think like men think. There are too many occasions when the author goes off on a pointless tangent for a couple of paragraphs for no apparent reason.
There are several storylines in the book, most of which involve a romance. Cecilia and Ian are the couple who were denied a divorce. After the denial of divorce there is a dinner meeting to discuss the way forward, which turns into a passionate evening followed by a miscommunication, a refusal to see each other, and act of kindness, a return to sea, an accident on the aircraft carrier and some very clichéd exchanges of letters. It all ends with the predictable reconciliation.
The rest of the action surrounds Olivia and her friends and family. The local newspaper editor (new in town) hears about what she did, writes an article about her and takes a fancy to her. They have an on-off-on again romance punctuated by more miscommunication and an all-too-easy coming together.
Olivia’s daughter Justine is the former high school valedictorian and current local bank manager. Justine’s twin brother had died in an accident as a teenager. Her ten-year high school reunion is due, and she is nominated to serve on the organising committee. This brings her into contact with her brother’s former best friend and former high-school football star, Seth. He is currently a fisherman who spends a lot of time in Alaska and lives on a boat. There is the inevitable attraction, unspent passion and confusion. Justine continually changes her mind about whether to date Seth or stick in her current unfulfilling relationship with Warren, a wealthy man 20 years her senior who likes a the company of younger ladies. We all know she is going to end up with Seth. Warren detects the attraction and ups the ante by proposing. Debbie Macomber does her best to make this process interesting but is all reads like teenage indecision about who to go out with. The book ends with a shotgun marriage (to Seth) which didn’t seem true to Justine’s character.
There is a subplot involving Charlotte, Olivia’s mother, who tries to untangle a mystery left by a former inhabitant of a care home she used to work in. This man turns out to be Tom Houston, former 1950’s star of a cowboy show who had neglected his family when he was famous. He moved to Cedar Cove to be closer to his only remaining family – a grandchild who didn’t want to know him.
The other major storyline involved Grace, Olivia’s best friend. Her husband mysteriously disappears near the beginning of the book. He walks out on her, leaving his clothes, car and everything. This storyline isn’t really ever finished, to leave room for the next book.
One of the frustrating things about the book is the number of times characters change their minds about people or things without much explanation. The reader is left in dismay as yet another plot twist is due to a character refusing to communicate or even think about what might be best for them. I’m not saying that people always think through their decisions, but real life people are deeper and more complex than that, and the repetitiveness in the book was irritating.
Despite lots of broken relationships in the book, you do get the feeling that Macomber considers marriage and commitment to be important, and that relationships can be worked out, but in the book, the twists and turns of marriage seem to be things that happen to you, rather than things you might proactively work towards. All the major relationship developments occur as a result of something unforeseen – a child’s death, and explosion on the aircraft carrier, a chance meeting in a bar, a husband inexplicably leaving after 25 years of marriage.
The bedrock of marriage is mutual effort and trust, a willingness to work at love, discuss differences, and offer forgiveness. It involves real, deep, open communication, understanding the challenges your partner might face and seeking to support one another through them. A husband must realise how his wife receives love and should seek to show it in that way. In many ways, husband and wife become two individuals within a single unit in what they hope for and what their values are. Macomber’s characters were all about receiving love and nothing more.
There is only one relationship in the book that gets sorted out, and this does so through an exchange of letters (again, letters which, in the way they are written, do not ring true). It is a shame that Macomber didn’t take the opportunity in this storyline to investigate more deeply the grief that comes from miscarriage and the real struggles that might be involved in rebuilding trust in a marriage. It all proved to be too easy and predictable.
It is holiday chick-lit fluff, and nothing more.