Life has been pretty kind to Cornelia Brown, the college-educated twenty-something manager
of the Café Dora, a comfy little Philadelphia coffeehouse. In fact, things have been so good and so free of responsibility that lately she's been thinking she should make something more of her life.
It's as if she's been treading water, having risen no higher on the food chain than café manager because she just hasn't figured out anything better.
Cynical about some things, totally romantic about others, and ultimately believing that "true love is tops," Cornelia seeks succor in Cary Grant films, hoping that one day her very own Mr. Grant will walk through that café door. And he does, in the form of the gorgeous, gracious, and most civilized Martin Grace, who takes one look at her, falls in love with her, and immediately asks her to come to London with him.
Meanwhile, Martin's ex-wife, Viviana, has recently abandoned Clare, her eleven-year-old daughter.
Wise beyond her years, Clare is an absolute marvel - resourceful, imaginative, even brave
- the kind of girl "you usually find in books." A fan of romance fiction, she is a startling mixture of sweetness and pluck; it's almost as though she has been delved from the pages of Little Women.
Clare knows that something is terribly wrong when her mother starts
exhibiting strange and erratic behavior: soon she is shopping compulsively, inexplicably pulling Clare from school, taking her to lunch in a fancy restaurant, even giving her red wine to drink. There's no explanation for Viviana's strange absences or odd behavior, but with her mind gradually slipping
and skipping away between confusion and clarity, none of Clare's books have taught her what you do when your mother turns into "someone you don't know, someone who doesn't take care of you anymore."
When Viviana drops Clare off on the side of the road before disappearing, the young girl is set adrift, forced to find a home with Martin while trying desperately to imagine living with her father instead of her mother, and realizing that her father probably couldn't imagine it, either. Thinking, deciding, and worrying, it all becomes too much for the poor girl; she realizes that she
is through with all of that: "floating and drifting, she did not want to think at all."
Almost immediately, Cornelia falls in love with the fragile Clare, adopting the role of semi-parent.
But in the process, she discovers that Martin is not exactly the man she had hoped he would be;
his chilly attitude toward Clare in her time of need has disturbed Cornelia. Wracked by doubts regarding his rightness for her, even though he
is a "flesh and blood man," and with the less-than-fantastic sex on her mind, Cornelia's world is rocked when Tao, her distractingly handsome brother-in-law, arrives in town.
Moving between the voices of Clare and Cornelia, author Marisa de los Santos progressively charts the deepest and most poignant of these characters' emotions, revealing their flaws and exposing their hidden insecurities. For most of Clare's life, there
has been so much distance between her father and herself, an empty space across which she could send stories, that actually telling him mattered so little
- "he was just the near-stranger he'd always been."
Cornelia little by little becomes distracted about the nuts and bolts of Clare's well-being, the attributes of parenthood thrust upon her without warning. Yet she also worries about her relationship with Martin, forced to deny a steadily growing and brutally honest attraction to Tao. For Cornelia, Clare, and Tao, the world holds endless possibilities, but can the house of cards they seem to be keeping up through sheer force of will
do anything but tumble down?
The author writes candidly and delicately, thoroughly in tune to the quiet domestic dramas of life. The characters in Love Walked In can little afford to leave their troubles behind, or even live in an in-between space where you think troubles can't find you.
For all these characters, denial and defiance is not an option. It is where parenthood and its ensuring responsibilities crop up in the unlikeliest of places.
Only through her bourgeoning relationship with Clare and her surprise love affair with Martin
does Cornelia realize that real happiness isn't what happens to you when you "whistle along," drifting through life, ignoring responsibilities and pretending that bad things just don't exist.