Love Remains is my second read of a Dacus novel, the first being The Art of Romance which I enjoyed very much. The story arc connecting this book, Art of Romance and Turnabout's Fair Play (which is on my shelf for reading soon!) is the meddling of a group of faith-based grandmothers who want to see their single grandchildren paired off...but with standards. If the grandchildren of each of the unofficial group's members can pair up amongst themselves, then everyone is certain of quality matches.
Three unsuspecting grandchildren are Caylor (the heroine of The Art of Romance, Flannery ( whom I will meet in Turnabout) and Zarah, the heroine of Love Remains. Like Caylor, Zarah has a wonderfully unique academic profession at the Middle Tennessee Historic Preservation Commission, is built like a woman (and not like a stick insect), flashes her normal insecurities, has problems with eating a little too much ( and the guilt that follows) and with a bit of a backward fashion sense; but whose heart for serving in the church and whose genuine interest to please everyone trumps her desperation of finding a man and settling down: even while the infrastructure of her church wants to place more effort into providing good marriage and family examples for its singles.
Much like Jane Austen's Persuasion, Zarah's world takes a turn when former beau Bobby Patterson arrives at the scene. Convinced by her father that Bobby was an unsuitable match for the young Zarah, she remained single and heart-broken as he served time in the military. Now, he is back and the sparks that flew between them persist still. Will Zarah's pride and the curly head on her shoulders be able to withstand meddling from her friends, her grandmother and even from Bobby Patterson himself?
What Kaye Dacus does extremely well is explore the plight of singles in the church universe. For those who are unfamiliar with organized religion, Christian Singles ministry and the pressure (sometimes unspoken) of those who have chosen careers over love to mesh into a mould which appreciates the traditional family unit, this will be a strange land. For those of us who grew up in the church and have felt first hand how singular life can be when you attempt to find a dating field within the confines of Christianity, we completely recognize the insecurities and doubts which plague Zarah and her band of single Christian friends. When Zarah's single leader Patrick becomes engaged, the feelings of abandonment and surprise that follow will be instantly recognizable to those who have been closely involved in a Church family. The feelings of doubt, loneliness and insecurity ----as well as the little nagging thoughts of jealousy which seem to be so foreign to a world built on the tenets of theology will be all-too-familiar.
The book excels at presenting the life of a single woman with a successful career who is forced to contemplate her past and future relationship while reconciling her individuality with an unspoken mantra of a church duty-bound to present worthy examples of couples, marriage and family. Indeed, it was the separation and titles of the numerous Bible Study and Sunday School groups which rapt my attention: classes for singles, for nearly marrieds, for already marrieds, for those who have been divorced (Divorce Care).... Churches have the propensity to label within their greater structure. I will be the first to condemn this practice (having often felt that I didn't fit into any of the columns provided and having seen how it can unintentionally ostracize seekers) and I applaud Dacus for blatantly exploring the ramifications of this seemingly harmless practice on her heroine.
I did find this book a little slow at times--- as it explored Bobby's prediction of finding an apartment and working in Nashville and Zarah's workaholic nature lent itself to a few paragraphs of information dumping; but, on the whole, when it stuck to the budding re-kindling of Zarah and Bobby's relationship, the book was competently penned. I do find that Dacus has the propensity to describe non-essential details ( such as meals ordered and at what restaurants and what the characters are thinking about their relationship with food as well as fashion and clothing choices) which can detract from the movement of the plot. One particular instance sees Bobby deciding what he can eat at a pasta restaurant due to his failure to go to the Y and sign up for a membership. I find details like this superfluous; but, on the whole, the character portraits and the canvas spread out to present the vital details in the growth and maturation of Bobby and Zarah --- in and out of church--- was compelling.
Dacus' ongoing thesis provides older, single women a field and redefines the usual archetypes of Christian romance and Chicklit. I really appreciate how she battles the "tough" subjects, so to speak, infuses the pages with her own convictions and offers us characters we can relate to: in all of their insecurities, differences, failures, flaws and triumphs.
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