Maybe you love old movies the same way I do, or the same way Cornelia, the heroine (or one of them) in Marisa de los Santos‘ debut novel Loved Walked In does. Ignore the generic title — it’ll work better for the movie version starring Sarah Jessica Parker anyway — or miss a heartbreakingly good read.
Now you might be the kind of person who will hate this book. That is, someone who is annoyed by the romance in movies like The Philadelphia Story, which Cornelia is obsessed with, and who just wouldn’t be able to get past that gut dislike to love a book like this. If so, I feel you, but it’s really too bad. This is a great read, despite being almost too emotionally devastating at times to keep your eyes open and keep reading.
Cornelia has spent her life training to be a heroine in one of those classic screwballs, honing her wit and sharpness. And she is a good person. When a charming stranger who looks just like Cary Grant walks into her cafe, how can she help but think this is it?
But it isn’t. Because this Cary Grant, Martin Grace, turns out to be more cad than hero. And he has a daughter. A daughter named Clare who he has never figured out how to love or even really to pretend to care about. Clare’s mother is fast going crazy and 11-year-old Clare is straining to cover up the tracks. And then, one day, her mother just leaves and Clare’s forced to go to Martin.
Martin doesn’t learn and grow. He doesn’t ever really get it. A tweak on expectation that somehow mysteriously ends up making this feel just like one of those classic love stories.
One of the book’s many ecstatic blurbs says that the characters are all people you wish you knew. And it’s absolutely true. de los Santos has done an amazing job fully fleshing out these people so that you mostly can’t help but love them, even when they’re doing unlovable things. The one exception is Martin, who serves as an accidental linch pin of everything good that happens — too smooth, too distant to be a good father — but ultimately nothing good happens in the book if he isn’t in it. And he’s not the romantic hero. How’s that for complicating things?
Ultimately, it is Cornelia and Clare’s connection that matters — and Cornelia and Clare’s connection to Teo, Cornelia’s sister’s (secretly estranged) husband.
This book is at least a couple of things. It’s a knowing critique on the desire for that certain movie kind of true love and it’s a true love story. Oh, yes, Cornelia falls in love; actually she falls in love twice. But it’s her and Clare’s love for each other that is the most important and resonant. And the most believable.
Loved Walked In is full of beautiful turns of phrase, funny banter that works (hard to pull off in a book) and sweeping emotional situations. I hope you love it as much as I did. And cry. I also hope you cry. Because I did that too.