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Review: Return To Rosalee Station by Mandy Magro

on November 7, 2018

Return To Rosalee 
Mandy Magro
Harlequin MIRA
2018, 310p
Copy courtesy of Harlequin AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Bestselling Australian Author returns to the world of her debut novel, Rosalee Station, with a new tragic and harrowing story of love and second chances, set deep in the heart of the Australian outback. Can they find the path to forgiveness and healing, or will grief keep them apart forever?

After eight years of marriage, Sarah Walsh had thought she and Matt would be together forever. But when a fatal accident serves up the cruellest punishment any mother could face, their relationship falters. Sarah is helpless as Matt flies off the rails – she braves one last–ditch attempt to try and make him see they need to work together to get through the heartache. But will it be enough? And what about her – how does she go on alone?

Reeling from devastation and guilt, Matt gets the wakeup call he needs to save his marriage before it’s too late. But the way forward is littered with obstacles, and he can see it’s only by returning to the outback beauty and isolation of Rosalee Station that he has any chance to reclaim the man he once was. But will this separation end up costing him everything?

In her latest release, Australian rural romance author Mandy Magro revisits a familiar location and couple. Matt and Sarah’s meeting and courtship was detailed in her 2011 release, Rosalee Station. Now I haven’t read Rosalee Station but I honestly don’t think that matters because it skips forward a significant amount of years – Matt and Sarah have now been married for 8 years but 12 months ago the couple suffered a devastating and traumatic loss. Because of this, their marriage is slowly breaking down, exacerbated by Matt’s descent into alcoholism due to guilt because he blames himself for the accident that stole something precious from them.

The thing is, whilst it may have been an accident, the resulting consequences are actually undeniably Matt’s fault. He was careless, probably doing something he’d done a million times as a child and probably even as an adult without thinking twice. And maybe 99.9% of the time you can do such a thing and be fine. But there’s always that chance something will go wrong – and when it does, it turns Matt and Sarah’s lives completely upside down. They are shattered and broken. I don’t know the rules of driving around farms but I honestly couldn’t believe that Matt didn’t face some sort of legal repercussion – he was the driver, he was responsible for his passengers, including a minor who isn’t able to make these decisions for themselves.

Moving on. It’s a year later and Matt and Sarah are in a bad place. Matt drinks every night and Sarah has had to take drastic action in the form of kind of an ultimatum but he finally seeks help. He decides that in order to really make this work, he has to leave Sarah and their own farm and return to his family’s farm, the titular Rosalee Station. Sarah is really upset by this, she wants to be able to help him through it but Matt is adamant he needs to do this without her around.

I commend Mandy Magro for tackling alcoholism and also for examining a couple who have had the heady highs and are now experiencing the worst of the lows. It’s interesting to me, to read about a couple going through a bad time and how they work through it together and come out of it. That kind of didn’t happen here as Matt removes himself from the marital home to deal with his problems and they don’t really part on the best of terms so they don’t even really have much in terms of communication. They are essentially living these two separate lives with the outcome hanging on if Matt can kick the drink. The thing is, I don’t really think Matt does anything to address the reason why he drinks. He refuses counselling and intends to just go cold turkey. His GP convinces him to fill some prescriptions for medicines that will help him with his withdrawal symptoms and at first he even refuses that. Matt’s expectations seem unrealistic and I guess that’s quite true of a lot of people that need to break out of an addiction cycle. The thing is, I don’t think just going “I’m not going to drink anymore” is enough when you are drinking for the reason that Matt is. That reason isn’t just going to magically go away without being actually examined, dealt with and moved past. Or at least moved past enough to function as a human being without using alcohol as a crutch because it’s not something that people just ‘get over’ and move past.

A lot of this story is bogged down in the day to day rituals and life – lots of descriptions about showering, breakfast, car drives, farm work, etc which does tend to take away from the more serious topics. Once Matt makes the decision to stop drinking, I thought there would be quite a bit more about that but it’s not as dominant a part of the story as I thought it would be. The thing is, alcoholism is a disease and it’s something someone like Matt will probably fight on and off (ie some days it’ll be easier, others much harder) for the rest of his life. Anytime something bad happens, he will have to control that instinct to drink it away. A lot of this is kind of glossed over because Matt doesn’t really talk about his drinking. I’m also not sure how serious he really was at times, because he stays somewhere he knows there’s a bottle of spirits. There were a few instances of Matt’s behaviour that felt like actual red flags for me – such as his reaction to Sarah going to a rodeo for her birthday as well as his thinking about Sarah when the two of them are separated. At times he seems almost resentful of the fact that she isn’t constantly calling to check on him or praise him or whatever, seemingly forgetting that he told her he could only do this a thousand kilometres away from her. I think Sarah was quite patient and she really did try to show him that she loved him but she also had her limits as well. I think it’s very difficult to know how you’d be in this situation unless you were actually living it but there were times when I felt like Matt seemed quite a lot of work. He was very resentful, full of self-loathing and guilt which is also why I questioned how successful he’d be without some sort of counselling to deal with those feelings and move forward. This could’ve been an opportunity to address men and seeking that sort of help. I actually feel like the book opted out of addressing some of the harder parts of Matt’s journey and it also gave us kind of like a “magic ending” which doesn’t show the ongoing effort.

Whilst I think this was a great idea, for me it did miss with the execution. There are so many things that just didn’t work for me – the dialogue is very over the top – if it’s not excessively flowery declarations of love and the like, everyone sounds like Alf Stewart and Steve Irwin had love children and populated this novel with them. The level of ocker is…..distracting. Very distracting. And I just think I expected a more in depth look at going cold turkey quitting a pretty hardcore drinking habit and addressing the sorts of things that led to that and this book didn’t really deliver on that for me. It was more about the day to day things and even though I knew Matt was going through a very difficult time, I didn’t warm to him as a person. I had sympathy for him, because he made a mistake and was going to have to deal with it for the rest of his life. But I didn’t like him. And some of his behaviour seemed a bit problematic to me, like when Sarah feels bad for saying she’ll go to the rodeo with her sister-in-law because she knows that Matt won’t like it. It felt like a very surface story and didn’t dig anywhere near as deep as I think it should have.

5/10

Book #187 of 2018

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