In the novel Grow Old With Me by Melinda Evaul, Sarah Campbell runs a bed and breakfast in the small NC town of Love Valley. She spent all of her adult life caring for her mother, who had an accident leaving her with the mind of an eight-year-old. Sarah gave up a chance at marriage and a family of her own to care for her parents. Now her parents have passed on, and she is in her 50s, barely making ends meet, and trying to ignore symptoms that indicate something worse than just the aches and pains of getting older because she doesn’t have the money to see a doctor. She has a good church and set of friends, but she doesn’t let anyone know the depth of her problems.
One day a client, Benjamin Pruitt, comes to her establishment to do some carpentry work in the town. He is horribly disfigured from a fire years ago that killed his best friend. He keeps to himself to avoid people’s stares and carries a lot of bitterness, especially toward God for allowing such a thing to happen. He plans to mostly stay in his room after work, but the first night, when Sarah has dinner set out for him and another client, he doesn’t feel he can back out without being terrible rude. She extends friendship and grace towards him, and eventually he responds.
Friendship turns to something more, but there are so many issues in the way. Both had expected to spend the rest of their lives single. Sarah is a believer and Benjamin is not. As Sarah’s symptoms escalate, so do her fears of becoming dependent on someone and being a burden to them, and her physical and financial situation seem like too much to ask someone to take on. Benjamin is still in the process of opening himself up to others and trusting.
It was nice to see a romance between ordinary older people rather than the main characters being young/beautiful/handsome/muscular/at the top of their profession. I thought the fears of aging were handled realistically. Both characters were realistically flawed: Sarah admits to having a bad temper and is fiercely independent; Benjamin struggles the way many people would who had undergone what he had. I liked what both characters learned along the way about themselves, God, and each other.
I did find the writing a bit choppy in places and awkward in others. There were some sentences that seemed a bit overly…sentimental, maybe, almost silly (“Dust motes danced to the Christmas music playing on the CD”; “Fervent pleas leapt from his dark eyes.”) I thought Sarah went way too far in the relationship without knowing that Benjamin was a Christian and knowing that would be an obstacle for her.
But overall it was a good story. It’s supposed to be the first in a Quilt Trail series, but it was written in 2010, and apparently there are no sequels yet. The author’s web site tells how she and her husband like to travel the back roads of TN and NC seeking out Quilt Barn Squares on buildings, so evidently she originally planned a series of books along those lines. I don’t know if she still plans to write more. This one has pretty consistently been 99 cents for the Kindle, making it easy to give it a try.
(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)