"No matter what might happen to us later, I saved his life that night. And, for that one night, at least, he saved mine. Hope is in the mirror we keep inside us, love sees only what it wants to see, and beauty is in the lie of the beholder. Sometimes, that lie is all you need to survive."Let's get this out of the way up front - Deborah Smith does not have a major NY publishing contract. Her latest, The Crossroads Cafe, was published by Belle Books, a small press she owns with several other Southern writers. From what I understand, she shopped this book around in NY and got nowhere.
The Crossroads Cafe tells the story of Cathryn Deen, a Hollywood movie starlet who dazzles with her beauty even if her acting skills are suspect. She's on the verge of launching her own cosmetics line when a run-in with the paparazzi leads to a fiery car crash. Cathryn Deen is no longer Hollywood's It Girl - she's a freak show. A burn victim lying in intensive care. But help is on the way.
Delta Whittlespoon is Cathy's cousin (several times removed) and she owns a cafe in the remote mountains of North Carolina. When she hears about Cathy's accident, she is frantic. She begs Thomas Mitternich, local drunk, to help her get in touch with her cousin. Thomas, a former architect who lost everything when the World Trade Center collapsed on 9/11, has spent the years since drifting aimlessly and swimming in the bottom of a vodka bottle. Unfortunately, he adores Delta and just can't say no to the woman. He calls in the mother of all favors and soon Delta and Tom are sending Cathy care packages. Delta provides the biscuits and gravy, Tom sends letters and snapshots of Cathy's grandmother's abandoned cabin - a cabin he would love to get his hands on and restore to it's former glory.
All roads lead to North Carolina, where Cathy and Thomas soon meet face to face. But these are people with a crap-load of baggage - Thomas who just hasn't had the guts to kill himself yet, and Cathy, whose whole life has been wrapped up in the validation that her beauty once gave her. With it gone, does she have anything else to offer?
This is only the third book I've read by Smith, but they all have one important thing in common - she writes characters as if they were real people. There's an immediate connection. A spark that makes the reader think that there really was a 9/11 hero named Thomas Mitternich, and a Hollywood starlet named Cathryn Deen known for hit romantic comedies. This connection with the characters leads to a serious emotional investment on my part as the reader, and damn if I didn't want these two to fix themselves and each other.
If I were to have quibbles (and y'all know I do), it's that I wanted Thomas and Cathy to spend every waking moment together. The author does separate them for stretches, a necessary evil for them both to deal with their own issues. Also, Smith weaves in a lot of feminist "stuff" about beauty myth and the superficial culture we live in. It's all very good, but there were a few instances where I was like, "Yeah, yeah that's great - now back to Cathy and Tom!" I loved these characters so much I wanted Smith to spend every single word devoted just to them.
All in all though, a truly fabulous read. Great characters, great story, lots of emotional angst to rip your heart out - brava!
Final Grade = A.
Sidenote: Harlequin needs to get a clue and sign Smith. Seriously, they already have Debbie Macomber (who they've been promoting the hell out of - take it from someone who reads all that publicity who-ha for work) and Susan Wiggs writing for Mira. Adding Smith, with her folksy Southern charm, would turn them into a women's fiction juggernaut. But what do I know?