The Family Man

Back to Eden
by Melinda Curtis
(Harl. Super. #1340, $5.50, G) ISBN 0373-71340-1
Curtis has written a series of books about the Hot Shot Firefighters, forest fire fighters who are based in Idaho, but go wherever they are needed. This is the second one of the series I have read and in both books the characters are all wounded emotionally and trying to adjust to life despite some type of traumatizing event from their childhood. In Back to Eden, the story starts off strong and slowly disintegrates into a tale of “woe is me.”

Cole Hudson is a Hotshot assigned to a forest in Wyoming, not far from one of his hometowns, Eden. Cole’s family moved there from Texas while he was in high school. He met what he thought was the love of his life in Missy Quinlan and a girl he considered a great friend in Rachel, her sister. But Cole left and Missy married another even after Cole invited her to come with him. On his last night home, he got Missy pregnant, although he never knew. He has remained unmarried for 10 years, hoping that Missy would eventually come to him.

Rachel has had a very tough life. Abused by her mother, she is terrified of the dark. She is also responsible for raising Missy’s two kids because Missy died in an auto accident about four years ago, purportedly on her way to find Cole. Rachel is a pilot and flies the planes that dump the slurry on the forest fires. She and Cole run into each other at the base camp and she informs him that Missy is dead. She doesn’t tell him about his daughter.

On the last run of the fire, Rachel crashes and is badly injured. She needs nursing and all she has are Jenna, age 10, Matt, age 5 and her dad, who is elderly and suffers from a condition that causes him to be nearly blind. Cole feels responsible and comes home to Eden with the family to nurse her back to health. He also wants information. Jenna looks just like his sister and he needs to understand what is going on.

The story starts off strong with the excitement of the fire fighting and the crash. Once Rachel returns home, the story is all about the characters and figuring out how this will turn out. Jenna is scared of Cole because her stepdad used to yell at her a lot. He is a scumbag and also left Matt with Rachel. He provides no support, but he shows up every once in a while to cause trouble. Rachel has a concussion and bruised ribs and is essentially bedridden. She also has nightmares from the abuse. Cole has problems of his own, having lost his sister in a fire, and his mother who never recovered from it. He has emotional scars from her treatment of him and now he is guilt ridden about Missy. Add in the complication that Rachel has always had a crush on Cole and now Cole finds he is attracted to Rachel. He is guilt ridden more because he thought he loved Missy, so how can he now want to be with Rachel?

Beyond the first few chapters, there is no action. Everything is character driven. Unfortunately, these aren’t characters that warm your heart and make you want them to succeed. Rachel is whiny and so full of angst and fears, it makes you wonder how she a) ever flew planes into fires and b) ever did the right things with the kids. Cole is so guilt ridden and filled with anger about everything, that he is not sympathetic either. Jenna is a mixed up little girl who acts much older than her 10 years old and Matt is the sunshine in everyone’s heart as only a precocious 5 year old can be.

The writing is clear and there is no doubt as to the feelings of everyone involved. Curtis actually does a pretty good job of pulling this all together and getting everyone’s multiple issues resolved. It’s just that by the time she did, I really didn’t care.

If you like stories filled with tortured people whose lives are messed up in many ways, then you might enjoy this more than I. But don’t pick up Back to Eden expecting cheeriness and happiness.

--Shirley Lyons

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