Thursday 19 April 2018

Missing pieces in the heart of a puzzling love triangle

Tara Heavey is adept in avoiding the blame game, but her characters are not well formed, says Anne Marie Scanlon

Anne Marie Scanlon

Where the Love Gets In

Tara Heavey

Penguin, €14.99

Most fiction writers, when tackling the difficult subject of a love triangle, will be quick to ascribe blame to one of the parties involved -- the cold unloving wife, the serial philandering husband or the manipulative man-eating mistress.

So fair play to Tara Heavey for trying to describe an affair without getting into the blame game. Aidan McDaid, a simple fisherman, has been married to Fiona, a doctor, for almost two decades. The couple have two teenage children -- a girl away at college and a boy at home. They appear to be happy until famous (but not rich) actress Sarah Dillon arrives in town.

Despite Sarah having more baggage than Louis Vuitton (she is a bald, single-breasted cancer survivor and single mother to a severely autistic daughter), Aidan falls instantly and deeply in love with her (and it's not her fame that attracts him because he's unaware of it).

Here lies the problem. The reader is never actually told why Aidan has fallen so hard for Sarah, and throughout the book he frequently exclaims that he can't explain it himself. It's a puzzler all right.

Although Sarah is no home-wrecking harridan from central casting, she's not all that likeable either. Take her relationship with her severely autistic seven-year-old daughter Maia. We are frequently told Sarah has spent a fortune on therapies and treatments for Maia (who is non-verbal) but there is very little evidence of any sort of effort to communicate with the child.

I was very disturbed by Heavey's portrayal of autism and wish there had been an author note explaining the condition more fully. Maia is at the extreme end of the autistic spectrum, and not every child who is diagnosed with autism will present in such an extreme way. Although the reader is constantly told how much Sarah loves her daughter, it all seems a bit hollow.

When Sarah is diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer and given mere months to live, it takes her quite a few of those precious months before she bothers making arrangements for the care of her daughter after she has gone. And this isn't the first time she's faced down cancer.

As a parent myself, and one who has never faced a life-threatening illness, I worry constantly about what would happen to my child if I were to die.

Most parents, single or not, if told they had a terminal illness, would be on the phone to their solicitor to make a will before their seat in the doctor's surgery was cold. Sarah manages to deal with her daughter's future as an aside in a conversation.

Aidan and Fiona don't fare much better in the likeability stakes. The character of Aidan, in particular, is hard to take seriously. He's been working on fishing boats his entire life, yet he has a depth of sensitivity that would stretch credulity in the average Mills & Boon romance.

The only character that is in any way likeable is Star the dolphin. She's a magic dolphin who instinctively knows when people need help and solace and gives it to them. Enough said.

Tara Heavey merits praise for attempting to deal with complicated human emotions without resorting to scapegoats and stereotypes. However, unlike her previous work Sowing the Seeds of Love, which presented the reader with fully rounded characters, Where the Love Gets In is disappointing. Maybe I'm far too cynical for my own good but my heartstrings remained unplucked.

Sunday Independent

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