Deborah Raney has already had one successful novel turned into a movie and has won several romance writers awards. The Face of the Earth explores a question difficult enough to possibly make to the big screen (at least the home tv screen) -- how and when does one become released from vows or commitment made to another when the other person involved is no longer present. Neighbors Mitchell Brannon and Shelley Austin face such dilemmas when their shared grief over the unexplained disappearance of Mitchell's wife brings the two closer together.
Mitchell and his wife Joy have always had a strong marriage, but when Joy does not return from a school conference, the authorities and small town gossipers look for evidence that Mitchell could be involved. But nothing materializes and it appears that Joy is one of the thousands of missing people whose story may never be solved.
When do loved ones put grief aside and build new lives? Is alright for Mitchell to start anew after six months? nine months? Is he to forever honor his vows when in all likelihood his wife is deceased? And neighbor Shelly, who for more than fifteen years has been Joy's best friend and total confident, feels just as strong a commitment to Joy, while at the same time knows that each day her own love for Mitchell is growing. I had expected that I would be most drawn to Mitchell in this book. Clearly the back cover blurb made it appear that the book would be his story, and in narrative focus, it IS his story. Yet, I found my sympathies just as strong for Shelley. At times I felt Mitchell's feelings and actions were described just to provide "backdrop" for Shelley's thoughts and decisions. I guess what I am saying is that I connected more with Shelley, and for some reason, that made the book less successful, not more so. Shouldn't I be rooting for Joy's return?
Also, I had this nagging feeling that this is not the first time I'd read, heard, or seen this story. This
deja vue stayed with me right up until the last page, sending me to the computer to check if this book had ever been published prior to the May 2013 date printed in the book. I even checked my own handwritten list of books read this year to see if I had read a prepublication copy and forgotten it. It does not appear so.
Final recommendation - Deborah Raney fans will like the book, those who devour contemporary Christian fiction will also like it. I, however, did not really find the story "gut wrenching" as described by reviews. I think the book began with big questions and premises laced with suspense but then took a very predictable path to a predictable ending. I do have to confess, that, in real life that particular ending would be one of two possible best endings for the small town neighbors, so why I felt slightly let down by the book remains a puzzle to me.