In Teach Me, Dade introduced us to Candy Albright, an English teacher and Force to be Reckoned With. In “Sweetest in the Gale,” fellow Marysburg High English teacher, Griff has noticed Candy, but his grief for the death of his wife has disconnected him from other people.
Since that first Marysburg High School faculty meeting, almost a year ago, the sight of her marching down the hall, all martial intensity and unshakeable confidence, had heartened him, even on his worst days. She cared about so much. Students and colleagues and stories and language. She was a constant reminder that determination and belief still existed in his world.
He notices when she reappears after the Summer break considerably diminished. The dynamics of their relationship change as her emotional retreat draws him out of his own protective shell. Grief recognizes grief.
I love the way Griff considers Candy through the lens of literature and poetry. Griff advances and retreats back into life, afraid to love again but also unwilling to allow Candy to suffer her grief unsupported. It’s a lovely and quiet romance between two fully adult people with all the baggage and wisdom of a life lived. I fear I have made it sound more somber than it is. Candy and Griff are also quite funny as he winds her up about her many decided opinions.
The second story, “Unraveled” is also featured in the anthology He’s Come Undone, which you should immediately run out and buy. Now. Do it. Simon is asked to mentor the new Marysburg High art teacher, Poppy Wick. Poppy is not new to teaching, just the school. Everything about Poppy rubs Simon the wrong way – she is messy and casual. Simon is neat and tightly wound. He judges her by his own standards, gets everything wrong and has the rug pulled out from under him. Simon is also a fair person, so realizing he has badly misjudged Poppy, he sets out to observe her as she is and not according to his own narrow definitions. He is fascinated. Everything about her, from her murder dioramas to her professional competence to their shared love of teaching teens unravels Simon’s certainty and creates room for him to fall in love.
Again, this is a lovely story of two competent adults falling in love without a lot of drama, but with tremendous insight into how our minds and hearts work. Simon and Poppy are opposites in many ways, but they share a core of values that form the foundation of their relationship.
The final short story, “Cover Me” gutted me for different reasons than “Sweetest in the Gale.” Elizabeth and James have been friends for over twenty years, all through his disastrous marriage and recovery from his divorce. They have been content as friends. Their romance is jumpstarted when Elizabeth is diagnosed with breast cancer at a moment when she is uninsured. James insists they marry so that she can be covered by his insurance. Access to affordable healthcare and employment based health insurance are things about which I have strong feelings. I know too many people, myself included, who have not sought needed care because they couldn’t afford it. I have friends who have married when they didn’t necessarily want to so that they or their partner could have health insurance. When my mom was diagnosed with bone cancer it was only the unusualness of her diagnosis that allowed her to receive treatment. If it weren’t incredibly rare for a 60 year old woman to be diagnosed with osteo sarcoma, she would have died within a year and painfully. Fortunately, the cancer center that studied her case covered her palliative care. So yes, I read this story with tears streaming down my face.
Elizabeth and James had loved each other as friends, but never allowed themselves to consider further than that. Once he sees marriage as the solution to Elizabeth’s need, he is all in and forever on the marriage. He gives himself permission to fall in love. James is a champion cuddler, which also got me in my feelings, because I haven’t hugged anyone since early March and I miss it. Elizabeth doesn’t need much of a push to fall in love with the man she’s loved as a friend for decades.
Lets get the people who don’t support universal healthcare out of office and work on rebuilding a society where we don’t go broke taking care of ourselves and our loved ones.
Sweetest in the Gale has three lovely, soft and snugly love stories about adults. The paperback edition is out now and the ebook is out July 30th. I received an arc from the author in exchange for an honest review.