By Pamela Morsi
Publication Date: August 23, 2011
Erica and Tom Bentley have been married for almost ten years. Erica has just returned to work in the medical records department of a local hospital after spending six years as a stay-at-home mom. Tom’s dream business, Bentley’s Classic Cars, is growing, and first-grader Quent is doing well in school with a teacher he adores. The Bentleys are not wealthy. They make do with old appliances, struggle to save for their son’s education, and juggle child care. They are an ordinary young family, extraordinarily happy with one another.
Then one day Tom falls in love with an older woman, a 1956 Buick Roadmaster convertible in two tones of blue, christened Clara by her 80ish owner. Tom knows that he can’t afford Clara, but he pours his heart and his considerable skills into restoring her. Taking care of Clara takes time, and Tom’s time is stretched further when his top employee, who is also his long-time, married best friend, slacks off work to have hot adulterous sex with an auto supplies clerk. Tom is working longer hours, missing family dinners, and growing increasingly uncomfortable with lying to cover for his friend.
Erica is doing well with her job, enjoying being part of the working world again and winning praise and added responsibility from her supervisor. But her co-workers are addicted to their lunchtime gossip and prone to airing their cynical views of men and marriage. When Tom starts exhibiting all the signs of adulterous behavior that the lunch bunch has warned against, Erica begins to wonder if the man she loves and trusts is just another faithless husband.
A summary fails to do justice to the humor, sweetness, and poignancy of this book. Morsi has a history of creating memorable, engaging protagonists who are far removed from typical fare in romance and women’s fiction, and she is on her game here. Practical Erica, determined to avoid the mistakes of her many-times-married mother and devoted to her husband and son, is an appealing character. And the scene where she turns detective and follows Tom to the home of the “other woman” is a comic gem worthy of Lucy herself. Tom, a big bear of a man still crazily in love with his wife, is a heart-stealer. Having grown up with no father and an irresponsible mother, he is grateful for every day as part of a “real family” and thinks Erica is the best thing that ever happened to him.
The Bentleys Buy a Buick is a quiet book. There are no explosions here, no serial killers, no tycoons running the world, no great beauties enslaving with a glance. Instead Morsi gives us a couple much like people we know, perhaps much like the people you and your spouse are, and she shows us the glory and the risks of love for these ordinary people. Each character is drawn with such precision and grace that the reader feels as if she knows them. This is true not only of Erica and Tom but also of six-year-old Quent with his love of big words; of Letty, Erica’s younger sister, wise beyond her years; of Erica’s mom whose cynicism masks her insecurity; of Melvin who sees the cynicism and the insecurity and loves her anyway; of Guffy, Clara’s owner, who embraces life and accepts the imminence of death; of Briscoe, the young man Tom mentors, who is trying to grow up to his responsibilities.
Even the Buick becomes a pivotal character, one that brings to Tom a forgotten but defining moment when he learned that finding love and family could transform a life and causes him to consider the depth of his love for Erica.
I love you, he’d said that morning to his wife. Those were very small words that couldn’t begin to encompass the fullness of his feelings for her, about her. It was too big a meaning to be held in his brain. Too grand a concept for a regular guy to be able to express. He loved her. And that was a driving force, an engine that could never be contained with internal combustion.
I’m so glad Pamela Morsi writes such books and so grateful that I can read them.
Have you read any of Pamela Morsi's books? How do you feel about quiet books?