Home Before Dark

Home Before Dark

4.0 33
by Susan Wiggs

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She left her child behind, but couldn't let her go

As an irresponsible young mother, Jessie Ryder knew she'd never be able to give her newborn the stable family that her older sister could, and the security her child deserved. So Luz and her husband adopted little Lila and told her Jessie was but a distant aunt.

Sixteen years


She left her child behind, but couldn't let her go

As an irresponsible young mother, Jessie Ryder knew she'd never be able to give her newborn the stable family that her older sister could, and the security her child deserved. So Luz and her husband adopted little Lila and told her Jessie was but a distant aunt.

Sixteen years later, having traveled the world with the winds of remorse at her back, Jessie is suspending her photojournalism career to return home—even if it means throwing her sister's world into turmoil.

Where life once seemed filled with boundless opportunity, Jessie is now on a journey to redeem her careless past, bringing with her a terrible burden. Jessie's arrival is destined to expose the secrets and lies that barely held her daughter's adoptive family together to begin with, yet the truth can do so much more than just hurt. It can bring you home to a new kind of honesty, shedding its light into the deepest corners of the heart.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
Sixteen years ago, unmarried Jessie Ryder gave her newborn daughter to her sister and brother-in-law, trusting them to do what was best for her child, even if that meant never letting Lila know she was adopted, or that Jessie was her birth mother. But now the shocking news that Jessie is losing her sight to a condition that may be hereditary sends her back to Texas, to reveal the truth to her daughter, even though the secret she's kept for so long may shatter her sister's marriage. After rocking all their worlds, Jessie is desperate to comfort Lila, repair the damage her honesty has done to her sister's family, and prepare herself for the time when what's left of her sight fails her. In the face of the dark unknown that lies ahead, Jessie longs for home and hope, but she fears that letting Dustin Matlock -- a new widower with a baby daughter -- into her life will be a huge mistake for both of them. Dustin needs a competent, motherly wife, not a woman who's struggling to come to terms with going blind and to redefine herself and her family. But, just as Jessie works to heal the family she helped to create 16 years ago, Dustin works to convince her that their love is strong enough to meet whatever difficulties the future holds. Sue Stone
Publishers Weekly
Wiggs's latest is an entertaining romance perfect for beach listening. Sixteen years ago, unwed Jessie gave her newborn daughter up for adoption to her married sister (whose husband, unbeknownst to him, was actually the baby's father). Jessie then settled in New Zealand and became a celebrated nature photographer. Now going blind, she returns home to Texas to reconnect with her sister and see her daughter-and conveniently fall in love with Dusty, a widowed pilot who lives nearby. This is enjoyable fluff, apart from the clich of the heroine abruptly dumping the hero without explanation because she doesn't want to "burden" him with her terrible secret. Narrator Eby reads with expression, but ignores specific vocal directions in the text. It's jarring to hear various characters comment on Jessie's New Zealand accent when listeners are hearing her speak without one, or to learn that Jessie's mother, Glennie, has "a deep, sweet voice" when Eby reads her lines in a high, crackling tone. Throughout the text such lines as "her voice broke on a sob" or "there was a hitch in her voice" are not accompanied by any break or hitch in Eby's reading. On the positive side, she does attempt a Texas drawl for Dusty and a Spanish accent for his friend Arnufo. And she's terrific when portraying petulant teenager Lila: Eby's "Whatever!" captures teenage sarcasm perfectly (listeners can almost hear the accompanying eye roll). Simultaneous release with the Mira hardcover (Forecasts, Mar. 31). (Apr.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Blindness, babies, bathos. When photojournalist Jessie Ryder finds that she's losing her sight to a rare retinal disease, it's time to take stock-and, at last, meet the child she gave away years before. She rails against her cruel fate as she leaves New Zealand for the Texas town where she grew up. After all, she'd stayed away, kept her distance-and kept her side of the bargain she made with God. She'd provided the best possible home for her newborn by handing her over to her sister Luz and her husband Ian. Even now that she's a teenager, Lila has no idea that she was adopted (and there's another thing even Luz doesn't know). Lila escapes serious injury during a joyriding car accident that shakes the family out of its complacency and forces them to grapple with the Big Questions. Why does Ian, a Death Row lawyer, always have time for his clients but not for his family? Must Luz always shoulder most of the burden of raising the kids and running the house? Luz pines for what she perceives as her sister's freedom, but Jessie, of course, isn't really free. She's always been haunted by what she never told Luz: Lila is the product of a long-ago, whirlwind affair with Ian. Her vision dimming day by day, Jessie wonders whether she'll ever find happiness. There's hunky rancher Dusty Matlock, father of an adorable toddler, still fending off media attention ever since his pregnant wife, comatose after a stroke, gave birth by Cesarean and expired a couple of years ago. Should Jessie give in to Blair LaBorde, tabloid reporter, and photograph Dusty? Perhaps. But will Jessie even admit that she's losing her sight? Yes, once she shares her story yet again at the world-famous center for the blind not faraway. Well-written women's weepie from the author of many, now with her first hardcover. Agent: Meg Ruley/Jane Rotrosen Agency
From the Publisher
"A beautiful novel, tender and wise." -Luanne Rice

"Susan Wiggs paints the details
of human relationships with the
finesse of a master."
-Jodi Picoult

"Wiggs is one of our best observers of stories of the heart. She knows how to capture emotion on virtually every page of every book."
-Salem Statesman-Journal

"Wiggs's talent is reflected in her thoroughly believable characters as well as the way she recognizes the importance of family by blood or other ties."
-Library Journal

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That spike of panic a woman feels when the thought first hits her—I'm pregnant—is like no other. Sixteen years after that moment, its echo haunted Jessie Ryder as she drove through the Texas heat, having traveled halfway around the world to see the daughter she'd never met.

She could still remember the terror and wonder of knowing an invisible cluster of cells had changed her life forever, in ways she could not imagine. Sixteen years and uncounted miles separated her from that day, but the distance was closing fast.

Simon had tried to stop her—It's madness, Jess, you can't just go dashing off to Texas—but Simon was wrong. And this wasn't the craziest thing she'd ever done, not by a long shot.

For the hundredth time since flinging her belongings into a bag in an Auckland hotel room, Jessie wondered what else she could have done. There was no script for this, no instruction manual for putting the broken pieces of a life back together.

There was only the homing instinct, the tendency of the wounded animal to seek safe haven. And then there was the unbearable urge, long buried but never quite forgotten, to see the child she had given away at birth to the only person on the planet she trusted—Luz, her sister.

The front tire rippled over a line of yellow discs marking the center of the highway. Jessie's driving days were numbered, but a stubborn streak of independence, combined with a sense of desperation, made her defiant. She slowed, checked the rearview mirror—still getting used to driving American cars, on the right side of the road—and pulled off. She was lost again.

The glint of the sun over the jagged silhouette of the hills blinded her briefly, and she flipped down the visor. Grabbing the map, she studied the route highlighted by the counter clerk at Alamo Rent-a-Car. Southwest along the interstate to exit 135-A, State Highway 290 to Farm-to-Market Route 1486, following the little red thread of road to a place few folks had heard of and even fewer were inclined to visit.

Jessie had followed the directions. Or had she? It was hard to tell, and it had been so long since she'd traveled these forgotten country roads. As she traced a finger over the route, a movement on the road caught her eye. An armadillo.

She usually only encountered them as roadkill, as though they'd been born that way, with their little dinosaur feet pointed skyward. And yet here was one, waddling across her path like something out of a Steinbeck novel. An omen? A harbinger of doom? Or just another Texas speed bump? She watched the creature wander to the other side of the road and disappear into the low thicket of chaparral.

An oncoming car crested the steep hill ahead of her. She squinted at the approaching vehicle. A pickup truck, of course. What else did you find out here? As it slowed and then stopped on the opposite shoulder, she felt a slick thrill of danger. She was completely alone, lost in the middle of Texas, miles from civilization.

The window rolled down. Shading her eyes against the glare, she could make out only the outline of the driver—big shoulders, baseball cap—and, incongruously, a child's safety seat on the passenger side. A fishing rod lay across the gun rack.

"Everything all right, ma'am?" he asked. She couldn't get a good look at his face with the sun in her eyes, but that Texas drawl somehow put her at ease, evoking faint memories of lazy days and slow, neighborly smiles.

"I'm headed for Edenville," she said. "But I think I'm lost."

"You're almost there," he said, jerking his thumb in the direction he'd come from. "This is the right road. You just haven't gone far enough."


"No problem, ma'am. You take care now." The pickup truck moved off, backfiring as it headed in the opposite direction.

You take care now. The friendly throwaway admonition lingered as she pulled back onto the road. She fiddled with the radio, finding mostly news and tears-in-my-beer country music. At last she discovered a decent rock station out of Austin and listened to ZZ Top, turned up loud. She hoped the music might drown out her thoughts and maybe even her fears.

Austin's bedroom communities, with names like Saddle-brook Acres and Rockhurst Estates, were miles behind her, giving way to places with folksier appellations like Two-Dog Ranch. She passed a Texaco station with a hand-lettered sign: We Sell Gas To Anyone In A Glass Container.

Deep in the hill country, late afternoon settled in. The dark pockets of shadows hidden within the striated sandstone hills were not to be trusted. The waddling armadillo had reminded her that, at any moment, a jackrabbit or mule deer could leap out onto the road. She would hate to hit an animal. She didn't even want to hit a dead one, she realized, swerving to avoid a battered carcass that had not yet been desiccated into a grotesque kite of flattened skin.

The trip felt much longer than she remembered. Of course, years back, she couldn't wait to leave; now she couldn't wait to get home. Soon she saw it, the weatherbeaten Welcome To Edenville sign with its faded illustration of a peach orchard. Smaller signs sprouted in the field at its feet: The Halfway Baptist Church. Home of the Fighting Serpents. Lions Club meets on the third Saturday each month.

The tree-shaded town had the eerie familiarity of a half-remembered dream. Hunched-together storefronts lined the main square, which was organized around a blocky, century-old courthouse. Adam's Ribs B-B-Q and Eve's Garden Shoppe still stood side by side across from Roscoe's Hay and Feed and an exhausted Schott's discount outlet. Despite the addition of the Celestial Cyber Cafe, the place retained its midcentury, slow moving character, a town content to lag behind while time sped past like traffic on the interstate bypass.

Right out of high school, Jessie had left for college. She'd loved Austin's urban bustle and suburban sprawl, its population of politicians, intellectuals, Goths, Mexicans, criminals and rednecks. Now she was back in the small town filled with everything she'd left behind, whether she liked it or not.

Despite the passage of time, she knew her way now. Five more miles along a narrow lane, past the preternaturally green Woodcreek golf course and driving range, and then a right turn onto the lake road.

She rolled down all four windows of the car and took a deep breath. She could smell the lake before she saw it—mes-quite and cedar and the cleansing scent of air blown across fresh water. One of the few cold, spring-fed lakes in Texas, Eagle Lake was bluer than autumn twilight.

Areas of rounded rock, with hawthorn shrubs blooming in the cracks, plunged down to touch the water. The lake itself was a vast mirror with a forest fringe of the most extraordinary trees in the state. They called them the lost maples of Eagle Lake because everyone knew this particular type of tree didn't rightly belong in Texas. Maples grew in the long, frozen sleep of winter found only in the woods up north, not the unpredictable fits and starts of brutal cold and blistering heat of the Texas hill country. And yet here they thrived, nonnatives huddled together beside a picture-book lake.

Legends about the maples abounded. Indian lore held that they were the souls of long-dead ancestors from the North. Others claimed a settler had planted them for his Yankee bride to remind her of the New England autumns she missed so desperately. But all anybody really knew was that the trees were transplanted strangers that didn't belong, yet managed to flourish here anyway, bursting into hectic color after a scorching summer had sucked the pigment from everything else.

Each autumn, the maples blazed brighter than any forest fire, in colors so intense they made your eyes smart: magenta, gold, deep orange, ocher, burnt umber. For two weeks every fall, the Farm-to-Market Road was clogged with tourists who drove out to Lakeside County Park to take pictures of their kids skipping stones on the leaf-strewn water or climbing high in those God-painted branches.

As Jessie drew nearer to her destination, she tried to remember when the foliage reached its peak. Early November, she recalled. Homecoming season.

Meet the Author

Susan Wiggs is the author of many beloved bestsellers, including the popular Lakeshore Chronicles series. She has won many awards for her work, including a RITA from Romance Writers of America. Visit her website at www.SusanWiggs.com.

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Home Before Dark 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 32 reviews.
bmamca36 More than 1 year ago
This is a story based mostly on the relationship of two sisters, Luz and Jessie. It touches on their mother who was distant, self involved and always in need of a man. The behavior of Lila, the daughter/niece is also examined. For the most part, it is a very touching story. Jess was a free spirit always on the go and Luz was the stable, dependable wife and mom. After years of separation Jess returns and they need to resolve past issues in order to try to have the close relationship they both desire. There is also a romance for Jessie that takes the book from insightful to sappy. The romance would have been better placed in a fairy tale and and if had been deleted would have made this book outstanding. Susan Wiggs has an enjoyable writing style and I would read her work in the future.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
DarleneGinn-Hargrove More than 1 year ago
songbirdsue More than 1 year ago
I love Susan Wiggs books! This is another wonderful one. It deals with the effect keeping secrets has on loved ones as well as dealing with a debilitating illness that ends with blindness. I gained a lot from the emotional struggles within the characters and was satisfied with their final development. I was enthralled with the detailed description of learning to deal with and becoming independent after losing sight. I felt the ending happened a bit to abruptly with out voicing some of the fears and struggles Jessie was still facing and how she came to terms with them. You know she does and are satisfied with her decisions but would like to hear her voice them for greater satisfaction.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is my very favorite of Susan Wiggs. A must read for any Wiggs fan!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My mother is legally blind and has listened to many of Susan Wiggs' audio cassettes, but this audio is read too fast with little feelings and pauses/stalls at many unusual times. Is it the CD or the reader? Poor review mainly because of the reader.
jesseME More than 1 year ago
I didn't want to put this book down. Susan Wiggs really knows how to write and get all of your emotions involved.
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One of Susan Wiggs' best novels, this is a rich, compelling story with interesting characters. Highly recommended!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved the book and after I got into it I could not put it down, but when I had to, I kept it close by so I could pick it up again.