Just like Sleepless in Manhattan, What We Find, from Robyn Carr, is a 2016 mirabooks imprint from Harlequin, and first in a series. However, What We Find is drama, not comedy. No worries about too much rom-com here. Instead, I found the book alternately frustrating and wonderful.
Maggie is a thirty-six-year-old neurosurgeon in Denver. She’s facing a malpractice suit, and various legal and financial complications from a collapsed group practice. She’s been dumped by her boyfriend of three years, after an accidental pregnancy followed by a miscarriage. Needing a break, she heads for her father’s rural campground, but her planned one week break extends into months after her father has a heart attack. Though it is early in season, the campground already has a resident of several weeks, a mysterious stranger named Cal.
The story is almost 400 pages, and gets off to a slow start. The opening chapter has multiple flashbacks to fill in various aspects of Maggie’s back story, and the plot occasionally detours to dwell on some aspect of character, or introduce characters who I suspect will turn up in later stories.
Once our couple have met, and are thrown together, things get more interesting. Maggie and Cal begin a relationship based largely on mutual sexual desire, and I like that Maggie is a woman who has enjoyed her share of sex, unlike many romantic heroines. I’m also amused that she’s long found the campground a good source of temporary male company, in part because my own Romance One heroine runs a campground, and takes the same pleasure in it.
The casual relationship that becomes something more is a common approach, but it requires a good explanation as to why this person, why now? Too often there is something magical about the other person that is never satisfactorily explained, but in this case it’s not just the other person, but the characters arriving at a point in their lives where they are ready for a more serious relationship and better able to choose a partner.
In this middle portion of the story, the driving question is how this relationship with Cal will go, complicated by the related questions of:
- Who is Cal, where is he going, and will he come back?
- What will happen with the malpractice suit?
- When will Maggie go back to work?
This part of the story works really well, and I enjoyed reading it. But as matters started to get resolved, I became frustrated again. I’m not sure whether it was too many colourful characters, or too many plot detours, but the last straw was the discovery that a minor character’s back story included getting a free house. That’s when it dawned on me that everyone in this story is very rich.
Maggie is a neurosurgeon, and though bankruptcy is occasionally mentioned as a threat she faces, she never seems short of cash, and is able to leave work for an indefinite period to mull over her life. Family money paid for her education, so she never had the burden of student loans. The campground wasn’t the source of family wealth – she has her small-town hard-working simple life father to give her life advice, but also has a wealthy urban step-father, to give her money (and more life advice).
The campground isn’t poor though. It provides a comfortable living, to the point that the uninsured costs of a heart attack warrant no more than a mention that it’s costly. Then there’s Cal, who is also able to take months off to mull over his life, again thanks to unearned money, and, like Maggie, is able to return to the workforce on his own terms. Cal’s background, like Maggie’s, manages to combine wealth and homespun roots.
I’ve nothing against wealthy characters, but when they haven’t earned it, and a significant part of their character growth is deciding to slow down and enjoy life, because it’s the simple things that matter, I’m more exasperated than sympathetic. Maggie and Cal are wounded people with serious problems, but they are also extremely privileged, and they are blind to that.
What We Find is great romantic fantasy, with strong believable characters, but it’s also pastoral fantasy, supported weakly, and in any event a contradictory notion. A relationship is a particular and personal social contract, in that you exchange personal authority for other benefits. It is the opposite of the state of nature, the antidote to a life which Hobbes tells us is not just “nasty, brutish, and short,” as often mentioned, but also “solitary.” What We Find is trying to have it both ways, celebrating both the tamed and the untamed.
It’s unfortunate that the medical and legal realism, and the gritty tragedies of the characters lives, are undercut by their fantastical wealth. Apart from that significant flaw (and the sometimes leisurely pace), this is an enjoyable and well crafted story.