The Boy on the Porch

The Caleb Trees

 
Coming Home by Dee Holmes
(Berkley, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-425-19302-0
***
After writing three novels that examined tough issues such as teenage suicide, drug abuse and runaway behavior, Dee Holmes has penned Coming Home, a more traditional Women’s Fiction novel that portrays a few weeks in the lives of three women who return to their small Rhode Island hometown. The result is a quick and predictable read that does little to distinguish itself from scores of other “best friends who laugh, cry and bond” stories.  

As the novel starts, Olivia Halsey is turning down a marriage proposal from her boyfriend Daniel. Years spent trapped in Bishop, Rhode Island taking care of her ailing parents have made her wary of commitment, so not only does she reject Daniel’s proposal, she breaks up with him as well. But the past continues to haunt her; Olivia gets an urgent call from a former neighbor in Bishop, telling her that her parents’ house has been vandalized. Olivia is forced to cancel the annual reunion she had planned with her best friends Claire and Lexie and head home instead to assess the damage to the house she has held onto, despite its bad memories, since her parents’ death four years ago.  

Lifelong friends Claire and Lexie decide to join Olivia in Rhode Island and help her clean up the mess so the house can be rented again, or perhaps even sold. Both are glad to escape their own problems. Successful Chicago news reporter Lexie has had one too many meaningless one-night stands and her professional life is also in shambles. Claire, who on the surface has the perfect life as a wealthy Virginia mother and homemaker, is afraid to tell anyone about the serious problems she is experiencing with both her husband and son. In those few summer weeks, the three friends will help each other through their respective tough times and come to realize that their hometown has more to offer than they thought. Not surprisingly, several of them decide that their stay in Bishop may be longer than they planned.  

Holmes has a good feel for small town life, and she crafts realistic portrayals of the secondary characters who populate the town. However, focusing on the problems of all three major characters in slightly less than 300 pages dilutes the impact of each one, and the subplots feel underdeveloped. The reader is told the bare bones about the origins of Olivia’s commitment phobia but not enough detail to fully understand and empathize with her. The lifelong fascination with antiques that she shared with her father is also alluded to but never fully explored. Without this information, Olivia sounds like a prickly, brittle prig who is a fool for turning down the obviously wonderful Daniel. Likewise, Lexie’s promiscuous behavior has very little context, and there are no clues about Claire’s past and the reason for her vulnerability to the attentions of a flirtatious bad-boy-turned-policeman. Another hundred pages of fleshing out the characters and their personalities would have added a lot to the novel.  

Holmes has been more successful in her previous releases, when she focused on one major story, especially when she tackled subjects that other authors shy away from. Coming Home reads like a poor-woman’s Barbara Delinsky or Barbara Bretton. It can be read in one day and forgotten just as quickly. Considering the fact that I still recall details about The Caleb Trees some three years after its publication, I know this author is capable of better things.  

--Susan Scribner


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