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Home Before Dark    by Susan Wiggs order for
Home Before Dark
by Susan Wiggs
Order:  USA  Can
Mira, 2003 (2003)
Hardcover, Audio

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* *   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

After one of many flings during college, free spirit Jesse Ryder discovers she's pregnant. Unwilling to terminate the pregnancy, yet also unwilling to be tied down with a baby, she asks her sister Luz and her new husband Ian Benning to adopt the child. Jesse keeps the father's identity to herself, something of a relief to Ian since he and Jesse had had a searing affair mere weeks before he met Luz. After Lila's birth, Jesse goes abroad to pursue her dream as a photojournalist. When she contracts a rare condition that will eventually blind her, she returns home to Texas to see her child and reveal Lila's true parentage.

Jesse is barely back home when things start going wrong. Luz insists Jesse keep her secret a while longer since she's certain that rebellious, headstrong Lyla can't handle the truth right now. Jesse agrees and soon senses more trouble -- her sister's marriage isn't as strong as it used to be. When Jesse is asked to work on a special feature about local widower Dustin Matlock, she jumps at the chance, expecting it to be her swansong as a photojournalist. The story of how Matlock lost his wife breaks her heart, while his strength overwhelms her.

Sparks ignite with Dusty the moment he meets Jesse. Her enthusiasm for life makes him feel alive again. Their attraction and ensuing affair is immediate and torrid. Always a direct man, Dusty doesn't pull any punches about wanting Jesse in his and his daughter's life. But Jesse, much as she yearns to stay, runs in the opposite direction. How can she tell Dusty she'll be blind in a matter of weeks? He's suffered enough pain in his life without this added burden.

Without telling anyone, Jesse leaves and commences a program called Beacon For The Blind where she learns how to deal with her impending condition. When a call from Jesse's old boyfriend alerts Luz to her sister's situation, she's devastated that Jesse didn't trust her enough to tell her the truth. Even so she pulls the whole family together, including Dusty, who sets out to bring Jesse home. He's angry that she ran away from him and lets her know it in no uncertain terms. When she eventually agrees to return home with him, Jesse is welcomed back with understanding and love.

Home Before Dark is a poignant story about family, relationships (particularly that between sisters), and of the choices we make in life and their consequences. Though some of Luz and Jessie's long-standing problems found resolution a bit too neatly, the story works well overall and touches the emotions on all levels. Those of you who've enjoyed Susan Wiggs' past novels should relish this latest emotional tale.

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