With mere weeks before the end of the year, the loss of his mother, Macy, is a harsh blow to Benjamin. Not only was he her primary caregiver for the last several years, he willingly put his whole life on hold for her. The loss is all the more devastating because she was the last relation Benjamin had. Bereft of any roots and isolated from others his own age, Benjamin is at loose ends. With no pressing engagements on his suddenly wide-open schedule, he decides to tackle some of his mother’s final wishes. Namely, he is to go through her possessions and find good candidates for donation to the church his mother devoted her life to.
As Benjamin sifts thorough the remnants of his mother’s life in the attic of their—his—house, he comes across a photo album. It contains pictures of the casual wedding between his mother and his father, who died many years prior. Among the happily smiling faces, Benjamin catches a glimpse of a banner…one that bears the name of a town. Benjamin grabs onto that sliver of information and embarks on an international journey to discover who his mother was through the people she obviously knew back in England.
When Benjamin arrives in the small English town, he is surprised at how friendly the residents are. Even the hostess at his hotel makes point of greeting each guest and inviting conversation. When it comes out that Benjamin is Macy’s son, however, the town floods him with goodwill. Surprisingly, he learns his mother had a brother, now a priest, who not only offers a filial bond to Benjamin, but introduces him to still more relations, however distant. Despite his devastating loss, Benjamin discovers a chance to be a part of a real family, his family.
To be sure, I enjoy a book that’s liberal with the angst. And there is much angst to be had in this story. Instead of fretting over sticky romantic entanglements, however, all the angst here stems from Benjamin’s feelings over his mother’s death and discovering the life she left behind—one she never spoke about to her husband and son. The range of emotions Benjamin experiences feel strikingly real to me. He goes through phases of being mostly “okay,” but there are several instances where an innocent question or a combination of little things tip the scales into sadness. Unfortunately, Benjamin’s mother has already passed when the story opens so we never get to see the struggles and bonding between mother and son. Nevertheless, Sol does an admirable job painting a true-to-life portrait of a young man coping with a devastating loss. This is, by an large, the focal point of the first two-thirds of the story.
One interesting point about this book is how subtle the romance is. In fact, calling it “romance” seems to go a hair too far. Benjamin is on a mission to find family, not romance—and in fact, there is very little to indicate Benjamin is even into romantic relationships until late in the game. Armed with a photograph of his parents’ wedding day, he manages to unearth many people who knew of his mother and the man who turns out to be his uncle. His uncle, in turn, reveals that their family is distantly related to the house of Wesley in the English peerage system. Of course it’s warm and fuzzy to see Benjamin realize he’s not totally without kin. By the same token, so much time and energy is spent on this aspect of the story, but the time Benjamin’s romantic counterpart finally appears, it felt like the book was too far along to reasonably build a connection.
Sol makes an effort to grow the attraction, but it just didn’t come together very well for me. Apart from the romantic interest, Tracey Alexander, son of the Lord of Wesley, appearing so late, the actual romantic flicker doesn’t spark until even later. There is also the whole speed bump of the fact that Benjamin and Tracey are related. Tracey goes to great pains to explain just how diluted that connection is—he even has the family tree to prove it—but Benjamin still harbors qualms about being of the same blood.
Nevertheless, the overall effect felt more like the introduction of an almost slap-dash romantic connection to convince Benjamin to up and move to England. (If only things were that simple! Then again, maybe they are if you have peers in your family.) I don’t know, I guess it felt a bit…well, awkward. Not that giving up the only life in the only country you’ve ever known is that unbelievable—Benjamin didn’t have any friends and his life was on hold. Rather I thought it was unconvincing that someone would do all that for the sake of a handful of people he never knew existed, that is to say for complete strangers.
Overall, while the whole budding romance with Tracey feels a bit johnny-come-lately, I’d say this story works well as an exploration in human relationships. The highlight really is on the emotions Benjamin feels in the wake of losing his last living relative and suddenly, inexplicably discovering he’s got long lost family in another country.