|Dealing with a permanent disability is becoming a familiar plot line in the romance genre, and to this reader, the distinction between the good and the poor stories is how the subject matter is treated. In Family Matters, Joan Kilby applies just the right touch of angst with reality to make the story one worth reading.
Fiona Gordon and her brother Jason have had a difficult life, but they are survivors. Their parents were killed in a car accident when Fiona was 18, an accident in which she was driving and which left her brother in a wheelchair for life. She quit college to take care of him, raising him from young boy to a high school graduate. Jason is an electronics genius and has dreams of getting his engineering degree. But money is tight and Fiona wants him to wait until next year. Meanwhile, she has just completed her teaching degree via correspondence courses and is taking jobs in the region as a substitute while she works nights in the local bar as a waitress. She dreams of travel, home and family, but knows those things are far in her future. She continually tries to balance overcompensating for her guilt with her need to protect Jason.
Fiona meets Marc Wilde in the pub. Marc was a dashing international news correspondent until a bomb threw him against a brick wall, damaging his spinal cord. Now he is home recuperating, living with his aunt and uncle where he grew up. Marc was a player and an athlete, always skiing, snowboarding, rock climbing. Now he is planted in a wheelchair. He has convinced himself he will walk again and this is a temporary situation. On good days, he works hard; doing everything he can to be ready for that day. On bad days, he heads to the pub, drinking himself into oblivion. He even has a handy supply of pills ready to take the easy way out just in case the prognosis changes from walking to permanently paraplegic.
These two wounded people find each other and romance blossoms. Fiona is attracted to Marc, enjoying his flirting, his ease with his charm and the fact that he makes her feel alive. She doesnít let him feel sorry for himself and is concerned that he is not facing reality when it comes to his situation. Marc is attracted to Fionaís poise, beauty and willingness to work hard. He finds himself drawn to her, despite the fact that he believes she canít really find him attractive in a wheelchair.
Their friendship takes off when Marc also befriends Jason. Marc convinces Fiona to go on a date with him and they have fun. This tale has little real action. It is truly a character-driven story. Fiona must find her femininity and learns to realize how she has both helped and hurt Jason (and herself) by her choices. Marc comes to grips with the reality of his world. And when he decides to help Jason reach his dreams, even though those dreams are not what Fiona thinks Jason needs, he and Fiona have to figure out their relationship.
Kilby has done her research thoroughly and offers insights into daily living challenges of those with physical disabilities without making it sound clinical or too heroic. She finds the balance between showing how people can adapt and be involved without being preachy. This storytelling ability enhances the tale and allows the reader to see the whole person with abilities, strengths, flaws and needs. All of the characters are well developed and thus interesting to the reader. While the ending pulls together all the loose ends in quick order, the transformation has plenty of foundation and thus doesnít come across as forced or sentimental.
Family Matters is not a tale for those looking for lighthearted flirting. It is however, a story that will engage readers and provide a thoughtful, out of the ordinary reading experience.
-- Shirley Lyons