Literature often offers escape. The bookshelves are full of stories that place us in exotic settings surrounded by beautiful people living exciting lives --- elevating us, if only briefly, above the mounting piles of laundry and the meals to be made. These tales fill our need to explore "otherness" for a while. But it's the more true-to-everyday-life stories that are often the most satisfying because they provide the recognizable, the familiar themes that we can all identify with on some level. It is here --- in the telling of stories about common, ordinary people --- where Barbara Delinsky excels.
In AN ACCIDENTAL WOMAN, Delinsky returns to Lake Henry, the scene of an earlier novel, and revisits a few characters that you've met before, if you follow Delinsky's work. (Don't take that to mean that this is part of a series; it is not. It's stands alone as a strong mystery and compelling character piece.) A 14-year resident of the town, Heather Malone, has become the focus of national attention. A quiet, well-liked woman who has made a life with widower Micah Smith and his two children, Heather is at the center of a 15 year old murder case and is suspected of being someone else, someone entirely different.
As the town struggles to come to grips with the fact that they might not truly know this woman that they have lived among these many years, her friends stand beside her. Poppy Blake, in particular, comes to the foreground as Heather's greatest supporter. The story in many ways is more about Poppy than Heather, who surfaces only infrequently to add tension to the unraveling of the murder mystery, but whose true character we never really get to know. It's Poppy, wheelchair-bound after a snowmobile accident and now running the town's telephone messaging service, who, despite physical limitations, charges forth to help Heather and at the same time find true love with Griffin Hughes, an investigative reporter. Griffin helps Poppy come to terms with the accident that left her a paraplegic and shows her that she can have the future and love she thought were out of her reach. It is Poppy that we see grow and change throughout the book.
The mystery is a backdrop to the relationships that grow out of bonds forged in trying times, in times of loss and helplessness. For instance, Heather's imprisonment leaves Micah without a partner during the maple harvesting season, but Delinsky delivers a town of caring, helping hands reminiscent of another time period, a town that steps forward to assist one of its own. In AN ACCIDENTAL WOMAN, Delinsky gives us refreshingly realistic folk facing the same issues and problems we all face --- loss and love.
Reviewed by Roberta O'Hara on January 20, 2011