I’ve been meaning to read Elena Graf’s Passing Rites series but never got around to it. From what I understand, this romance novel is some sort of new endeavour for her, and it gave me an idea of what her writing style is like. I like it, a lot. There’s something both agile and melancholy about it. I also liked a lot that both main characters are older: one is 58, the other 60.
A former renowned surgeon and breast cancer expert, Liz Stolz has chosen to retire to the seaside in Maine and has taken over the family practice. One evening, she’s called back to the practice by one of her friends, the local theatre manager, to see to one of his actors’ broken leg. Liz doesn’t recognize the woman at first but when she does, the surprise is huge. The actress is Maggie Fitzgerald, her first love, the woman who broke her heart forty years ago when, pressured by her family and social conventions, she left her to marry a man.
Liz is straightforward, almost rude at times but also kind. Her sometimes harsh outside comes mostly from her being a surgeon on one hand and her need to protect herself against more heartbreak on the other. Maggie is more complex, more tortured in a way. She’s coming to realize she’s never been happy, not since she broke up with Liz. Maggie is also trying to make a comeback as an actress, after retiring from teaching, so it’s second chances all the way. Liz and Maggie knew each other when they were college roommates, and the changes that happened in their bodies over forty years are cleverly addressed.
The relationship between Maggie and her adopted daughters, one of whom suffers from PTSD, anxiety and depression, was well-developed, as was Liz’s relationship with her ex, Jenny, and her mother.
I also enjoyed the atmosphere the author created. As I wrote above, it’s melancholy, and languid yet hopeful. There’s a slight slump towards the end, but it goes back on track soon.
I read a lot of romance novels, and while I love the sweet and idealistic ones, I also enjoy the more bittersweet stories like this one. The angst is real and doesn’t feel forced at all, not everything is going well. The story is on the realistic side. And yes, there’s a happy ending (it wouldn’t qualify as a romance otherwise), but the characters have to work for it.