The poignant story of what happens when a woman who thinks she’s lost everything has the chance to love again.
Leo has long joked that, in the event of his death, he wants his best friend Garrett, a lifelong bachelor, to marry his wife, Audrey. One drunken night, he goes so far as to make Garrett promise to do so. Then, twelve years later, Leo, a veteran firefighter, dies in a skiing accident.
As Audrey navigates her new role as widow and single parent, Garrett quits his job in Boston and buys a one-way ticket out west. Before long, Audrey’s feelings for Garrett become more than platonic, and Garrett finds himself falling for Audrey, her boys, and their life together in Portland. When Audrey finds out about the drunken pact from years ago, though, the harmless promise that brought Garrett into her world becomes the obstacle to his remaining in it.
I feel like I’ve read at least 4 or 5 contemporary novels about young widows in the last fews years, and while The Sweetheart Deal is the latest, it’s certainly not the least.
When Audrey’s firefighter husband Leo dies in a tragic ski accident, she’s left alone with three boys to raise. But not entirely alone: Years early, celebrating the Y2K New Year with quite a lot of booze, Leo made his best friend Garrett sign an agreement saying he’d marry Audrey if anything ever happened to Leo.
Audrey never knew about the deal, but Garrett has never forgotten. So when Leo dies, Garret drops everything in his own life to support Audrey and the boys, moving into their guest room and committing to finishing the addition to the house that Leo left half-built.
Needless to say, eventually Audrey emerges from her devastating grief to find comfort and the hint of new love in Garrett’s arms. But will the drunken promise from all those years ago come between them? Dunh, dunh, dunh….
The Sweetheart Deal is actually quite engaging, and I felt that the author did a very good job of portraying how the different family members deal with such a shocking loss. Different characters narrate different chapters, so we see events from the perspective of Audrey and Garrett, as well as each of the boys. It’s interesting to see how the kids come into the story, how their feelings complicate matters, and how Garrett very selflessly immerses himself in doing whatever he can for Leo’s family.
While Audrey has a best friend as well, it’s the friendship between Leo and Garrett that really drives the story. Friends since boyhood, they’re bonded in a way that we don’t often see in female-centric contemporary love stories, where the main friend relationship is usually between women. Garrett’s feelings here are intense and conflicted: He loved Leo truly and faithfully, would do anything for him, and sincerely wants to protect and assist Leo’s family. His feelings for Audrey grow out of his grief and devotion, and he deals with heaping helpings of guilt as well.
Audrey’s initial bereavement is realistic and heartbreaking, and she is really to be admired for her strength in caring for her boys even as she falls apart inside. There’s no suggestion at all that she wasn’t madly in love with her husband. Instead, we see a woman who suffers a great loss trying to figure out if she’s entitled to any future happiness, and trying to understand if what she wants is wrong for herself, for her children, and for the memory of her husband.
The characters are all Catholic and their faith does come into play, but not in a way that feels heavy-handed. Audrey’s religion guides her actions, and she gains strength and insight through the counsel she receives from her priest – but I never felt alienated by the religious aspects or that they took away from the story.
Ultimately, the romance with the husband’s best friend feels deserved and well-developed, given the odd backstory and the guilt everyone feels.
The Sweetheart Deal is a sweet, moving, sad, and finally uplifting love story that deals with challenges that feel all too real. The plot is not complicated, but by focusing on an everyday family and its crisis, the book remains grounded and is quite accessible.
I think, if I hadn’t recently read other books about widows in their 20s or 30s finding their way back to love, I might have been more moved by The Sweetheart Deal, so perhaps it’s not really fair to even mention the other books. I did like this book a lot, and readers who haven’t read other books with similar set-ups should find it fresh and engaging.
The Sweetheart Deal is a quick read, but it hits the sentiment right on the nose and strikes a good balance between grief and hope. Recommended for readers who enjoy contemporary fiction focusing on family and marriage.
Title: The Sweetheart Deal
Author: Polly Dugan
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: May 19, 2015
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Adult contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley