Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Martha Woodroof - Small Blessings

Tom Putnam has resigned himself to a quiet and half-fulfilled life. An English professor in a sleepy college town, he spends his days browsing the Shakespeare shelves at the campus bookstore, managing his department's oddball faculty, and caring for his wife Marjory, a fragile shut-in with unrelenting neuroses, a condition exacerbated by her discovery of Tom's brief affair with a visiting poetess a decade earlier.
Then, one evening at the bookstore, Tom and Marjory meet Rose Callahan, the shop's charming new hire, and Marjory invites Rose to their home for dinner. Her first social interaction since her breakdown, Tom wonders if it's a sign that change is on the horizon—a feeling confirmed when he receives a letter from his former paramour, informing him he'd fathered a son who is heading Tom's way on a train. His mind races at the possibility of having a family after so many years of loneliness. And it becomes clear change is coming whether Tom's ready or not.
A heartwarming story with a charmingly imperfect cast of characters to cheer for, Small Blessings's wonderfully optimistic heart reminds us that sometimes, when it feels like life has veered irrevocably off track, the track shifts in ways we never can have imagined.

Comment: I impulsively bought this book at a fair where I found it with a half price discount. Since it was a translated work, I thought that would be quite a bargain and from the blurb I imagined something romantic. However, I'll stop being seduced by promising blurbs because had I checked the grading on this online, I probably would have thought twice before buying it...

In this book we meet Tom Putnam, a middle aged college professor whose wife has serious issues but he is such a decent person he never left her and has been holding on to a one sided marriage. However, when the story starts, his wife dies and that leaves him free to start again, especially since his mother-in-law, who lived with them to help, approves of that. 
There is also a new employee at the university's library and Tom feels quite attracted to her but he fears he might not be what women would of him. Nevertheless, his life takes quite a turn because he gets a letter informing him the only affair he had years ago and which he regrets has given him a son he never knew about. The child is coming to meet him, he is falling for someone and his friends at the university are acting weird. What else could happen?

This story is labeled at contemporary fiction and romance. I know labels shouldn't matter but they do help in making us decide if we want to read something or not. This means I was expecting something romantic and what I got was something more.... weird.
I think the author has many, many ideas but they weren't well mixed together and for me the plot didn't flow well. I can understand the focus on Tom's problems and how the characters of Iris and Russel (his co workers at the university) might happen to connect with him but honestly, it was all so confusing and pointless I feel as if that wasn't necessary at all.

Tom does seem to be quite a decent guy, he only had an affair out of loneliness because his wife has mental issues but he never had the courage to just leave her, so although wrong, I can understand. He apparently has a son but we soon realize the boy couldn't be his. Tom still welcomes the child, still tries his best to protect him and care for him. Of course I liked this, it was a nice side to Tom's personality and I guess it justified the book's title. But the situation wasn't explored in a way that would turn this story into something incredible. There's no flow in the story and we often have random additions and scenes that have no interest whatsoever to what the goal should be.

The romance is with Rose, the new library worker. I think this story could have gained from focusing more on this but because the characters weren't well characterized, I don't think I felt as interested or invested in them as I could have. I liked they had an HEA, it was cute how the last two pages were described but...everything was both superficially done and too vague to fully grab the reader. I got this impression but perhaps others thought different.

I think the author had many ideas but didn't think of how they would be portrayed together. For instance, the child Tom recognizes as his son brings with him a lot of money. There are many passages just mentioning the man who will solve this issue for them. I thought this was too distracting and avoidable... then, two characters are described a certain rude way and their problems seem to be key to...what? Why does it matter since they aren't protagonists? Actually one of these has a complete turnover in his personality towards the end and that felt really silly, as if the author didn't have a better plan to force the characters into a "final" decision on what they would do to grab their HEA...

All things considered, this was not a bad read, but I don't think it will be memorable. It's sweet, easy and has many elements, too bad about the execution... I've read the Portuguese edition but I did like the cover I'm including here.
Grade: 5/10

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