Before and Ever Since
By Sharla Lovelace
Publisher: Berkley Trade
Release Date: November 6, 2012
Emily Lattimer Lockwood thought she was having a bad day when her ex showed up unannounced, bringing the news that Emily’s mother was selling the house in which Emily and her sister grew up. Then, Emily found out that not only was her mother selling the house, but she was also planning to travel the country with Emily’s eccentric aunt in a seasoned RV known as Old Blue. To add insult to injury, instead of listing the house with Emily, a real estate agent, Mrs. Lattimer listed it with a rival agent, one who had an affair with Emily’s ex before he became the ex. As if the situation isn’t bad enough, the handyman Emily’s mother has hired to get the house ready to sell is Ben Landry, an old friend whose presence threatens secrets Emily has been keeping for more than half her life. And strangest of all are the time warps that pull her back into the family history lived out within the walls of her mother’s house.
Kevin Lockwood, the man she married and divorced, was Emily Lattimer’s high school boyfriend, but Ben Landry was her best friend. It was Ben who understood her, Ben with whom she shared a connection too rare to be defined in words, and Ben whose disappearance without even a goodbye broke her heart. Now he’s back, moving into his old home from which he was desperate to escape, but his return is twenty-one years too late for Emily. It can’t matter to Emily that Ben can still make her heart beat faster, make her laugh, make her feel things she hasn’t felt since she was little more than a girl because Ben can destroy the world she created in his absence. And Emily won’t be the only one shattered in its destruction.
Before and Ever Since is a hybrid of women’s fiction and romance. In part, it is the story of Emily’s coming to terms with who she is and discovering that even the people she knows best and loves most are more complex and layered than she ever realized. During the course of the story, Emily’s relationship with her mother, her sister, and her daughter changes. But at the heart of the story is her relationship with Ben, past and present.
Lovelace creates a cast of characters who, with few exceptions, are interesting, likeable, and free from the clichéd characteristics that might easily have defined and limited them. Even the cheating ex is a fully realized character with strengths and vulnerabilities. Because the point of view is first person, it is easy to sympathize with Emily and to understand her conflicted emotions concerning Ben and her visceral physical response to him. One of my favorite moments between the two occurs when they dance:
In that instant, there was no unexplained anger, no arrogance, no distance. No words spoken, even. I thought we’d try to ease the awkwardness with dumb conversation, but suddenly there was nothing to say. At that moment, we were who we used to be. As he pressed my hand against his chest and moved his other hand up to the base of my neck, we moved together as one and there was no bad history or tension or sadness.
I really wanted Emily and Ben to have their HEA, but I wanted it to happen without other characters whom I also cared about being hurt in the process. Lovelace provides a happy ending, but it’s no fairy tale ending with magical resolutions. Her characters inhabit a real world where choices have consequences and people sometimes hurt those they love. If you like your romance with rich contexts, a realistic edge, and protagonists who are old enough to have some mileage on them, I think you will enjoy this novel as much as I did.