Sunday 4 November 2007

The Crossroads Cafe by Deborah Smith

The Crossroads Cafe follows the lives of two strangers, Cathryn Deen and Thomas Mitternich as they first become friends and then something more. Both have been scarred by life - Cathryn is physcially scarred when she is horrifically burnt in a car accident, and Thomas is mentally scarred by guilt and depression following the death of his wife and son in the World Trade Center on September 11th.

I read a review of The Crossroads Cafe on I Just Finished Reading. I then checked out Deborah Smith's site, and read the excerpts of the book that are available there. And when, at the end of the excerpt I wanted to read more, I bought the book. The excerpt reminded me a little of Susan Elizabeth Phillips whose books I enjoy.

Before I talk about the story, I'll just mention that as a reading experience it's an incredibly well-constructed book. Split into seven parts each section is introduced with various quotes applicable to that part of the story. At the end there's a reading guide of 12 questions to spark discussion for anyone who's reading it as part of a bookclub. Plus three recipes for biscuits if you're taken with the urge to try baking some yourself after reading about them in the book.

The book alternates between Cathy and Thomas's point of view, we get to experience the events that unfold through both of them. This lends itself very well to the story and I'm glad we got to see inside both of their heads.

Following the accident, Thomas is persuaded by Cathryn's cousin (Delta, owner of The Crossroads Cafe) to phone the hospital posing as Cathryn's husband so they can find out what's happening to her. Unbeknownst to them, Cathryn's husband has already distanced himself from her and isn't visiting her. It is the phone calls and packages from Delta that give Cathryn the strength to keep going, even when she's reached rock bottom.

Meanwhile, Thomas has problems of his own. An alcoholic, he hasn't come to terms with the death of his wife and child, holding himself responsible for their loss.

When Cathryn returns to her grandmother's North Carolina home to make a new life for herself, she gradually begins a relationship with Thomas, that will eventually heal them both.

How to describe this book. In some ways it reminds me of Brothers & Sisters (a programme I swore I wouldn't get addicted to, but did. And I apologize if I seem to be comparing books more and more often to tv shows. LOL). The book deals with a difficult subject matter for both Thomas and Cathryn, but it is full of witty, wry, self-depracating dialogue that brings a smile to your face, whilst at the same time taking you into the hearts of the characters and their community.
"Ravel...was...approximately seven hundred feet above sea level. I was at 4,000 feet. I needed to know she had to look up to me."

The car accident is horrific and hearbreaking, and did have me in tears. Then, the way we hear Cathryn's thoughts when she's in the burn ward, as the doctor explains her situation is very realistic. How she just isn't taking the comments in. How her internal commentary doesn't match up to what people are telling her.

In a way the relationship between Cathy and Thomas starts before either of them have ever met. Thomas writes to her, filling her in on the things that are happening in the North Carolina community. He names a cow after her. It gives her something to hold onto, when she feels like she has nothing left.

Although the initial scenes of the accident are intense, for the most part the book has a slow pace that draws you into the world of The Crossroads Cafe. You follow the burgeoning relationship between Cathy and Thomas, their progression from friends, to lovers, to family. Towards the end I felt like the plot had lost it's way a little bit, and maybe it was slightly longer than it needed to be, but this is a book that I would come back to re-read again and again. Just like catching up with an old friend.

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