Friday, January 22, 2010

Book Review - "Through the Heart" by Kate Morgenroth

Love stories don't usually involve murder, but this one does. It also involves a lot of other emotions and concerns, such as guilt, duty, fate. The story isn't long page-wise, but it does have the power to keep you thinking after you close the book.

Nora has been taking care of her ailing mother for three years, giving up her dream of getting a PhD in order to move back to her tiny hometown in Kansas in order to do it. Timothy, in New York, manages the family's fortune and kind of drifts through life, not quite sure what he wants but content to have things stay the same. He has to make a visit to Omaha to see Warren Buffett and while there, takes a drive into Kansas that leads to a chance encounter with Nora.

Nora isn't like any of the women Timothy has met in New York. She is beautiful but she has a childlike quality to her, which makes her seem more real. She's always herself, never trying to impress him or to be someone else so he'll like her. She doesn't flirt, she just acts naturally. For Nora, she has a broken engagement in her past and a mother who thinks she hasn't tried hard enough to catch a man. The two try to have a couple of dates, but miscommunication gets in the way. Still, they each see something in the other that makes them think they've fallen in love. Nora follows Timothy to New York, where she meets his crazy family. Timothy asks her to marry him and she says yes, but neither one knows what disaster will befall them the night before the wedding.

Each chapter is told in alternating first-person perspectives of Nora and Timothy. Thus there are several places where the same scene is visited but from the other side. Luckily, the author doesn't simply rewrite each of those scenes; she includes the thoughts and emotions from each person, so you feel like you were there. Or that you're sitting down, chatting over coffee with Nora and then with Timothy. Interspersing some chapters are excerpts from police procedural textbooks, which reminds you that there's a murder in the story somewhere. The main focus, however, is on Nora and Timothy and their slow courtship, which speeds up considerably once she arrives in New York and they get engaged. The murder occurs near the end of the book, and the revelation of the killer blows a few holes in the story, but if you can suspend your disbelief for a while, you'll end up thinking more about the themes Morgenroth has explored instead of the details.

Morgenroth's themes include guilt, both from survivors and from children towards their parents. She also asks about duty, as in how much does an adult child owe his or her parents? When does a child cross the line between sacrificing their own lives and in taking responsibility for the care of a parent? Morgenroth also inquires about money. How much does it take to make someone really and truly happy? She wonders what love is like. How do you know you're officially in love, and is that the most important thing in life?

Neither Nora nor Timothy is a completely sympathetic character, and their love story may seem superficial. For example, Timothy at one point says he needs Nora to prove she loves him, and he gets as far as the rehearsal dinner without feeling like she's come through. This seems a little selfish to me. Still, even though not much else happens in the book besides this romance, there are enough questions raised to keep me pondering about these two characters and the choices they make. If you like cerebral writing or if you like a little mystery in your romance, give this one a try.

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