More Than Words Can Say
“Mr. Barclay depicts a wistful world fixed in some idyllic mid-20th century past, a world where the men are strong and do what is right, where even the drunks—once a little sense is knocked into them—straighten up and ask for forgiveness. It’s a world where the women hold powerfully empathic feelings, cook amazing meals, drink coffee on the deck in the evening, and cling to their men.”
Reading Robert Barclay’s sweet, misty-eyed, and unabashedly old-fashioned romance, More Than Words Can Say, brought to mind the tag phrase for Garrison Keiller’s “A Prairie Home Companion” radio series, where “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”
In Robert Barclay’s minutely described, almost too-lovely world, all the women are endearing, most of the men are appealing, and everyone tries very hard to be strong.
After her grandmother’s death, Chelsea Enright, an art teacher from a wealthy family, inherits an Adirondack cottage along with a tin box full of her grandmother’s World War II-era secrets. Over a stretched-out summer, the young woman reads the entries in her grandmother’s diary, hoping that the book holds the answer to why her grandmother chose—after the death of her husband in the war—never to return to this lovely country refuge.
Chelsea’s anxiety heightens as she discovers that her married grandmother, whose husband was away in military training during the period of the diary, pens more and more detail about the Clark Gable lookalike living in the cabin next door.
Fretful and unsure how to proceed, Chelsea poses herself italicized questions. “I have a feeling that this journal has much more to tell me, she thought. But what will those things be?” For an intelligent woman, Chelsea takes a long time to come to the natural conclusion.
Perhaps Chelsea can be forgiven, for like her grandmother, she also has a handsome distraction next door. He’s a Harvard doctor by the name of Brandon Yale (a nice bit of pixie humor.)
Over a comfort-food meal in front of a blazing fire, Chelsea asks Brandon to read the diary along with her. Brandon comforts her during particularly painful passages by holding her hand or hugging her.
This throwback courtship—safe, conflict-free, and completely asexual until the declaration of love—is as anachronistic as the lack of even a fleeting reference to cell phones, laptops, iPods, email, Facebook, or any other indicator of the 21st century. It’s also a lost opportunity to put some distinguishing contrast between the two couples, whose courtships seem to have been ladled out of the same treacly stew.
But the appeal of Mr. Barclay’s book lies someplace other than Chelsea’s search for her grandmother’s secret, or even in the old-fashioned development of the romances. Mr. Barclay depicts a wistful world fixed in some idyllic mid-20th century past, a world where the men are strong and do what is right, where even the drunks—once a little sense is knocked into them—straighten up and ask for forgiveness. It’s a world where the women hold powerfully empathic feelings, cook amazing meals, drink coffee on the deck in the evening, and cling to their men.
More Than Words Can Say offers up a world infused with a powerful sense of right and wrong—a moral code that proves rigid and judgmental. Those who live here won’t accept human weakness, no matter how understandable. They’d rather break their own hearts.