Ten months ago, Geoffrey’s abusive husband left him. Three months ago, it was his beloved dog. Now, the middle-aged composer is struggling to just move on. He finds a measure of solace in a secluded wooded area where trees and a stream abound. It was the perfect place for his four-legged best friend to stretch his legs and allowed Geoffrey to get a bit of his own exercise. Plus, there is a giant rock where Geoffrey made many happy memories with his ex-husband, as well as his dog. Adrift without either of his partners, Geoffrey finds himself wandering back to the rock day after day. Except this time, someone is leaving messages in chalk on the rock. With nothing left to lose and a faint hope that maybe he can patch things up with his ex, Geoffrey starts writing back. Soon, the exchange of messages with a secret someone takes on a special meaning for Geoffrey. The little notes speak to Geoffrey’s gentle heart and prove his admirer understands Geoffrey inside and out—including his love for the musicals he creates. All too soon, Geoffrey finds himself caught up in trying to unravel the mystery of who is leaving the messages, and maybe finding a second chance at love.
I admit, I do not reread blurbs once I start a book for review. For this reason, I was unaware that Geoffrey and his ex, Ryan, had merely split up. The tone of the first several pages left me wondering what tragedy befell Geoffrey’s husband, since the character seemed to be mourning the loss of both spouse and dog. Much later, it becomes clear that Ryan has walked out on Geoffrey and that Ryan is an abuser. I do not recall super graphic scenes depicting this abuse, but it is made very clear later in the story that Ryan not only ended his marriage to Geoffrey with his fists, but he seems to have been emotionally and physically abusive from early on in their courtship.
Part of my inability to follow the timeline with the Ryan/Geoffrey break up is the fact that the Geoffrey we see in the “now” time period in the book has crutches and is injured. This is part of why I assumed he had encountered some horrific accident. Less clear is whether the crutches are because Geoffrey is still recovering from the fight that ended his marriage 10 months ago or something else. For me, this lack of clarity affected my ability to enjoy the book. Geoffrey’s relationship with Ryan and how it ended greatly impact Geoffrey’s sense of self-worth, so it was disappointing to have no clear idea about where these characters stood in relation to each other for so long in the story.
The main mystery of writing appearing on this giant rock in the woods was cute at first. Some of the exchanges had an element of nostalgia for me, personally. That said, I had mixed emotions over what I see as a level of immaturity the fifty-year-old Geoffrey displays over the presence or absence of these chalk messages. Maybe having Geoffrey tear up over the fact that one of the messages he left went unanswered for a length of time is meant to show the character’s vulnerability or sensitivity. However, this came during a scene where Geoffrey can barely dress himself before rushing to the rock to see if his secret admirer leaves a reply mere hours after Geoffrey wrote on the rock himself. The man is even telling himself there’s no way there could be a reply so soon, but that doesn’t stop him from despairing when his assumptions prove correct.
Finally, the big reveal for who is leaving the messages felt like it just came straight out of left field. Connor works the secret admirer into the on-page action well enough, but this person still just feels painfully, overtly, utterly random. The author does work in references to this surprise character that can be linked to earlier events in the story, but this didn’t help me build up a better understanding of or liking for the secret admirer. The best thing about the secret admirer coming to light is that this character finally helps Geoffrey overcome his sense of loss.
Overall, I thought the writing in this story was weak. The events outside Geoffrey’s constant checking of the messages on the rock don’t seem to flow together very well. By the end of the story, I thought I was able to reasonably piece together the major events that shaped who Geoffrey is as a character. However, my enjoyment of Geoffrey’s journey from unmoored lost soul to happily paired boyfriend was marred by the initial lack of clarity regarding Geoffrey’s spouse and a love interest that seems outright bizarre.