Eileen Goudge's Stranger in Paradise
contains three character driven stories that follow the lives of the Kiley women of Carson Springs. Widowed Samantha Kiley, the female protagonist of Stranger in Paradise
, is the forty-eight-year old mother of Alice and Laura. The story beings with the marriage of Sam's youngest daughter, twenty-six-year old Alice, to the much older Wes Carpenter. And although she is overjoyed for the love that Alice has found, Sam quietly worries about the dramatic difference in age between the bride and groom. So, Sam is distinctly unprepared for the attraction she feels for the much younger, Ian Carpenter, her daughter's thirty-one-year old stepson. The brief moments Sam spends with Ian at the reception leads her into a whirlwind romance that upsets her daughters and shocks the small town of Carson Springs.
While Sam is falling into this new romance, her eldest and newly divorced daughter Laura is struggling with her childless status, the slow drawing out of a homeless girl that she takes in, and a decade old admiration for her handyman Hector. Additionally, Alice, who was intensely devoted to her late father, is finding Sam's budding romance to be both an intense betrayal of her father's memory.
I found the novel to be both entertaining and surprisingly refreshing. Although, the focus of the story was primarily on Sam and Ian, Goudge never let the reader forget that this story is about a family of women. Readers are never allowed to forget that Alice and Laura are in the midsts of their own internal and external struggles. While Goudge could take the easy way out and make her major and minor characters a series of likable small-town people, she chooses a more complex and overall satisfying route for the novel. The men and women of Carson Springs are generally lovely people, but they are lovely, flawed
None of the characters are allowed to remain unrealized, which is a most fortunate for the readers of character driven texts. Eileen Goudge's dedication to the telling of the ups and downs of budding romances, the creation of new lives, and the acceptance of those two things makes this novel a worthy read.