Friday, August 19, 2011

The Cottage by Gerri Hill

Publisher:           Bella Books

Most likely, The Cottage will have you weeping by the end of the book. Whether it's from joy or despair will depend on your personal experiences.

Jill and Carrie have a lot in common. Both are married, have teenage children and love the local park. Both of their marriages also have been in trouble for a long time before they meet. Jill likes to spend her lunch hour eating in the park, watching the people and enjoying being totally alone. One day she notices Carrie sketching and finds that she is compelled to go see what she is doing. That begins a relationship that barely lasts a year, yet changes their lives tremendously. The women feel an instant connection, as if they have always known each other, though they have never met. They think alike, they feel alike, they love alike and they soon realize that they love each other. These are mature women however who understand that they have obligations to their families that complicate everything. Despite the fact that both of their husbands basically ignore them and their children are living independent lives, Jill and Carrie hesitate to cause disruptions in everyone's lives. Ultimately, they come to realize that no one can be happy around them if they are personally unhappy and it's clear what needs to be done. But what if the decision is made too late?

This is not a typical Gerri Hill novel, nor for that matter a typical lesbian romance. Anyone who is using fiction as an escape mechanism from the real world won't find that here. What the reader will find is a well-crafted exploration of two women who discover things about themselves. The story is told from Jill's perspective, so you get a good sense of the irrelevancy she feels in her marriage and her confusion when she realizes that Carrie is beginning to mean more to her than a casual friendship. The stress that she feels from dealing with her husband, daughter and mother-in-law can be felt from the pages. Likewise, the emotion and peace that she shares with Carrie is just as strong. Carrie is less well drawn, but the warmth of her personality and her feelings for Jill are very clear. 

Jill and Carrie's story asks the reader to believe in the concept of "soul mates," souls that travel together, reappearing and being drawn to each other in multiple lifetimes. Souls that are linked in time may appear to each other in any form or relationship, but they cannot avoid each other. These women, who have had no reason to believe until now that they have any lesbian tendencies, also know that they are meant to be together regardless of what society says is proper. Some people would say the book has a "sad" ending, but, if you believe in the concept, then the resolution of their story is also "hopeful." That is where the reader's experiences will come into play.

The Cottage is a well-told story with a very personal feel to it. It can easily be read in one sitting, but the emotions it brings up will probably linger with the reader for a long time. Hill has proven in previous novels that she can write by the formulas so popular in lesbian fiction. This book proves that she can also move outside of the formula to tell a different kind of tale.

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