A Little Ray of Sunshine – Lani Diane Rich

This is the first of Lani Diane Rich‘s novels that I’ve read, and it made me think for a good long while.

On the surface it seems to be the story of a young woman who runs from an untenable situation and then spends six years wandering the country, in a state of suspended animation. She left her problem behind, but she also had to give up the man she loved and his family, losses she cannot get past.

Emmy is working at a convenience store when a woman stranded by a broken down car takes one look and announces that Emmy is clearly in need of help. She introduces herself as Jess, Emmy’s angel. A gift from the universe. At the same time, Dig shows up. Dig is the brother of the man Emmy was supposed to marry. He brings her news that she can hardly believe. Dig and Luke’s father — the kind, intelligent, helpful Danny — is about to marry Emmy’s disaster of a mother. Lily Lorraine is a former child star, and vanity is her middle name. All during Emmy’s childhood Lily was oblivious, except when she took time to be unkind and pushy. It was Lily who drove Emmy to abandoning Luke and his family. It just doesn’t seem possible that Danny — who knows Lily’s history as well as Emmy does — would be marrying her.

[asa book]9780451222961[/asa] Emmy declares she has no intention of going to the wedding, but her new angel decides that’s the only option and so they end up crossing the country in an Airstream.

So now, in a less ambitious story, the rest of the book would be about Emmy getting back with Luke. Will these two people end up together? You know the answer to that. What stands in their way? This is where the story turns on its ear, because the bulk of the novel is not about Luke and Emmy, but about Emmy and her mother. Who has been clean and sober for a number of years, who recognizes that she has a lot to make up for, and who wants Emmy to come back into the fold.

The dangers of telling this kind of story are many. Striking the right tone, avoiding melodrama and silliness, and the biggest challenge: finding a resolution that isn’t a resolution. Emmy’s far too angry to be talked into loving-daughter mode in the matter of days. She makes it her business to demonstrate that her mother — the one she knows — is still in there. She has to do this, she tells herself and her angel too, for Danny’s sake. Before he marries her.

Rich handles this very delicate subject with a deft hand. The Emmy-Lily storyline is by turns moving, funny, and horrifying, but it manages to avoid high drama.

If there’s anything that didn’t work for me in this novel, it was Angel Jess’s story line, which did cross the line, very briefly, but regained some balance before it did real damage.

Given the posts of the last couple weeks, it’s clear that I think a lot about mother-daughter relationships and that this kind of story would be of interest to me. I’m hard to convince, but in this case, the conflict rang true and found a realistic let’s-see-where-we-go-from-here ending.