Saphora Warren's summer party is tainted by the realization of her husband's faithlessness. As she plays hostess, she notices a beautiful woman shooting suggestive glances in Bender's direction. While reading into a stranger's gestures is normally a mistake, Saphora already knows Bender has been unfaithful, and for her, this is the last straw. Bender has always found ways to have everything he wants, and having women is just one of his many ambitions. Saphora feels she has little dignity left and is certain that she is done.
Her bags are packed the day that Bender returns home early. His gestures are stifled, and he looks panicked. When he announces he has cancer and has been given a period of time, she doesn't believe it, but in these moments, she can see that the untouchable surgeon is shaken. This is so foreign that it stuns her into the realization that Bender is telling the truth. Saphora still cares for him, though wants to have nothing left to give. But with him sick, she just can't bring herself to do anything but offer her support.
The couple has raised three children who have grown into happy adults. They are aware of their parents' faults, but still adore them. Because Bender is a successful plastic surgeon, they've been well off through the years, and their life seems enviable. But some blessings have the odd effect of causing unhappiness. Bender and Saphora have both developed a tendency for depending on their housekeeper, a luxury that affords them too much time apart and no reliance on each other. Now with marital bliss out of reach and marital ties seeming unbreakable, Saphora goes with Bender to their beach house in Oriental. This is near the hospital where he'll undergo surgery and chemotherapy and then spend his remaining time with family.
The children and grandchildren soon come to offer support and deal with the shock. After surgery, Bender returns to the beach house full of grieving people while coping with the loss of his hair, his health and his independence. His mental state alternates between hesitation and a nervous panic, finally flowing into more pleasant, peaceful moments where understanding comes. These times are reserved for family and dear friends but also for God --- a new development for Bender. Tender moments are directed toward Saphora, who he has begun to approach with a new insecurity. This has caught Saphora completely off guard and brought her to the realization that she hasn't experienced real warmth with him since they were first married. They find relief along with heartache as they say goodbye while reconnecting. As Bender becomes fragile, his character changes surprise everyone, and Saphora responds by being completely honest and communicating her feelings. With a change in philosophies, difficult struggles become the means to lead both down the path of accepting a future with new possibilities.
THE PIRATE QUEEN takes readers back into the wonderful years and the not-so-good ones of this lovely couple, and the end result of their becoming distant. And then it drives forward into an emotional journey with a known outcome. You feel sorry for them at first, especially for Bender and Saphora, who seem to have been robbed of the best years of their lives. But the event has the miraculous effect of touching everyone they know. Regrets fade with the realization that they've found something better and gained the opportunity for real closeness. In a way, this is maddening because it dramatizes killing off Bender to accomplish this --- a disturbing fact that remains even until the end. But readers will be surprised at how genuinely vested they become in what happens to a sweet couple who has gained compassion for each other and made their love story mean something.
Any readers who have experienced a similar loss should appreciate the simple honesty and truth in this poignant, well-written family drama. All others who enjoy so-sweet love stories should look no further. Just be certain you have a full box of tissues close by (you'll definitely need them).
Reviewed by Melanie Smith on August 10, 2010