While this took a little bit for me to get into, once I did, I lost myself in Luke Crawley’s journey of loss, love and healing through Emily’s letters.
Luke is a young man, who loses his wife, Emily, at the very young age of 23 to cancer. He’s in utter despair. His life’s a mess and try as he might, he doesn’t see any hope or light ahead.
On the first anniversary of Emily’s death, he receives 9 letters from her. They’re numbered 1 to 9. She clearly states her intent with the letters. He can’t read all the letters at once. Each letter sets out a task and it’s only once completed that he can read the next one. Within the letters and Luke’s memories, we get to experience their relationship and love, and it’s clearly evident that Emily truly knew her husband.
"I wanted letters from now until I died.
I wanted to devour her words.
I wanted to stare at her handwriting.
I wanted to see her little turns of phrase.
I wanted to never open them.
I wanted to always have them, in case I needed them
I wanted to read them at ninety on my death bed."
It’s through Emily’s words that Luke becomes unstuck in his grieving process and begins to move forward and heal.
I wouldn’t call this a traditional romance novel. There is romance and love but it’s in Luke’s words and memories of Emily.
"I met the love of my life, and then thought she was the only chance I had to be happy. Then she died. And now? Now I'm learning a whole new way to be happy."
While Luke meets Rae and there’s potential for something there, this story is truly about Luke, told in his words, and his return to the living. It’s his passage; one man’s grieving, self-forgiveness and healing, with the love and guidance of his deceased wife.
There’s no right or wrong in dealing with loss and finding your way out of the darkness. Losing someone you love never makes sense and is never easy. Luke’s struggle and slow emergence from the darkness was real, poignant and hopeful.
This was a good debut novel by Blake Austin and looking forward to more.
**ARC provided by author in exchange for an honest review.**
I was about twenty minutes early for my shift, but I got up to the bar, grabbed a rag, started wiping it down, bussing some dishes.
"Damn, Luke," Jake said, watching me work. "You win the lotto or something? Royals win the pennant last night and I forgot to watch?"
"I'm just in a good mood, that's all," I said.
I thought about it a moment longer, decided I should tell him more. Impart some wisdom learned from my not-particularly-advanced years.
"When everything's dark for so damn long and your eyes get used to it," I said, "just a little glimmer of sunshine lights up the whole world."
He nodded, then grabbed a bus bin and headed back into the kitchen.
Warren though, Warren wasn't impressed. He was sitting by one of the daytime barflies, but he'd stopped talking and was just watching me. I was on thin ice, and I knew it. I couldn’t afford to lose my job. A heartbroken, drunk, angry widower is probably as unemployable as the average ex-con.
I came on at the end of the day shift. Warren liked tending bar during the day, because it meant just shooting the shit with the regulars. That day I had a smile for every customer, sparse words of wisdom like day drunks want to hear. Tending bar wasn't my dream. But to hell with letting that make me lazy. I kept the place clean, I poured drinks like I cared.
I was getting into the swing of it when happy hour kicked in and a few more people filtered through the door. Couple of middle-aged bikers, a retired couple that parked their RV out front.
The door swung open again, letting in a little bit of that early-evening cold, and I glanced up to see a crowd of three women, with two men. One of the women was a reddish blonde, radiant. Sort of stole the light out of the room. It was Rae. Our eyes met and her smile gave the room back its light.
She'd been in jeans at the shelter, but she was in a blue dress now and she looked damn fine in either. Took my mind right off Maggie, faster than I thought it would be possible. I met her eyes, and she gave out a little gasp and giggle. I was probably smiling in surprise myself.
The crowd came over to the bar. I'd thought the other four were two couples, but I realized pretty quick that the black girl with the afro was dating the quiet white guy in a beard and glasses and tattoos, and that the other guy was trying to impress Rae. He had a John Deere hat, but his clothes were way too clean for me to buy it that he worked on a farm. I hated him, right off. I probably would have hated him if he was the best guy in the world, though. The other girl, she was tall, latina, and for some indiscernible reason was interested in the poser farmer.
Most of the time, I'm awful at reading people. But for some reason, at work I can tell you everything about everyone who walks in the door. About who's into who, about who had a bad day at work. Who wants to get drunk and miserable, who wants to get drunk and happy, who wants to get drunk and start trouble. Maybe it's some magic of the job, maybe it's just how people carry themselves at a bar. Helps with tips, that's for certain. You wingman right, and the money flows in.
Warren, he likes to upsell them drinks when he's doing that. Get them excited about the top shelf. Not me.
"Hey, Rae," I said.
"Luke," she said.
John Deere looked at me like I was the scum of the earth. And maybe I was, but if I was the scum then he was... I don't know, something worse than scum. Wannabe scum.
She introduced me to her friends. Nicole had the afro, her boyfriend was Eric. The girl with bad taste was Irina, and John Deere had some name but honestly it went in one ear and out the other. He was John Deere to me. Yeah, maybe I'm an asshole.
"So, how do you know this guy?" Deere asked, tossing me a look that said I clearly wasn’t good enough to be friend with someone like Rae.
"Oh, he came in just the other day. Adopted the sweetest dog, a bloodhound." She turned to me, flashing that dimple high on her cheek. "How is he? You guys call a truce yet?"
"King's great," I said. "I mean, he's probably at home right now, eating everything I've ever owned, but I figure I was due for a purge anyway, right?"
It was a lame attempt at humor, but Rae laughed.
"What can I get you all? Friend of Rae's is a friend of mine."