Retro Read: The Crossroads Cafe

It’s the last Friday of the month which means it time for a Retro Read! These are stories that have been around a while, not old enough to be classics, but way too good to forget about. Some stories might not completely follow today’s writing rules, some might be a bit long, or takes a bit more time to develop. But they all have one thing in common, they’ve earned their place on the keeper shelf.

The Crossroads Cafe

 

This month’s Retro Read is “The Crossroads Cafe” by Deborah Smith. Breaking all sorts of “rules” (although talented writers can certainly scoff at such things!) the story opens with a prologue of a scene that actually happens later in the story. Believe it or not, this isn’t confusing and it works as the first line grabs and draws you right in:

 

Before the accident, I never had to seduce a man in the dark. I dazzled millions in the brutal glare of kliegs on the red carpets of Hollywood, the flash of cameras at the Oscars, the glare of sunlight on the beaches of Cannes. Beautiful women don’t fear the glint of lust and judgment in men’s eyes, or the bitter gleam of envy in women’s. Beautiful women welcome even the brightest light. Once upon a time I had been the most beautiful woman in the world.

Now I needed the night, the darkness, the shadows.

“Put the gun down,” I ordered, as I let my bra and sweatshirt fall to the ground.

The story is told in alternating first person points of view by the two main characters, Thomas and Cathy.  Both are tragically damaged in different but very public ways, one physically, one emotionally.  Their worlds collide when they both end up in the small town of Crossroads, North Carolina in the Blue Ridge mountains. Taking a huge secondary role is Delta, owner of the Cafe, the emotional hub of the small town, and the inadvertent reason Thomas and Cathy are living in Crossroads.

Filled with quirky yet down to earth, realistic secondary characters who have their own baggage and scars, the story runs an emotional gauntlet from tragic to humorous and everything in between. The growth of the Crossroads Cafemain characters,  innocently narcissistic to fully rounded, tragically suicidal to accepting and forgiving of self and others, is a tour de force for the reader and a classic lesson in character arc 101 for a writer. Nobody escapes unscathed, but there is plenty of natural humor sprinkled strategically to lighten the mood and counteract what could have been a painful read.  There are a multitude of social and personal issues woven into the fabric of the Crossroads Cafe, along with the romance, and Deborah Smith did a masterful job of approaching harsh subjects with an unflinching yet extraordinarily sensitive hand.

The HEA is here, tempered with reality, making this story heartwarming and easy to love, just like Delta’s biscuits and gravy. The Crossroads Cafe is a keeper on my bookshelf, a terrific read and a reminder that while we all have our scars, what really matters is how we choose to carry them. As they say at the Cafe…

“The Lard Works in Mysterious Ways”