When high-school senior Nelda Hansen becomes pregnant, she is forced to wed Lute Hanson by her domineering father who orders Lute out of Nelda's life as soon as the vows are exchanged. Soon after the birth of a daughter, Nelda returns to the Iowa home of the grandparents where she had lived for the last several years where she hears Lute has joined the Navy. Sadly, the baby contracts an infection and dies when she is six month old, her father never having laid eyes on her. With the help of her grandparents, Nelda then moves to Chicago where she goes to school and becomes a commercial interior designer of some renown.
When she needs a break, she returns to Clear Lake, Iowa, to the farm her grandfather left her in his will. Both grandparents are gone now but Nelda feels a sense of security in the place where she'd known such happiness all those years ago. She hopes for a bit of R&R and to re-evaluate her life.
What she doesn't figure on is running into Lute. Unbeknownst to Nelda, Lute has been renting the land which is now hers (an attorney has managed her affairs in Iowa while she was in Chicago). Lute keeps finding excuses to help her out and eventually Nelda discovers that the ring he wears on the third finger of his left hand is not because he's married -- it's the one he had bought when they were married. When a night of passion leads to complications neither one of them expected, Nelda is determined to withdraw from Lute and plans to move from Clear Lake as soon as possible.
MORE THAN MEMORY is a real page-turner, full of the grit and reality which readers have come to expect of a Dorothy Garlock novel. Since she is writing about the town she has lived in since the 1950s, the descriptions of the town and the surrounding area are richly detailed. She includes some of the most tragic events of the 1950s in her story including the death of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper who were killed in a plane crash outside of Clear Lake after a 1959 concert and even sets a scene at that last concert.
Lute, whose dedication and caring for Nelda have lasted more than a decade, makes a wonderful hero. A particularly poignant scene has them meeting for the first time in over eight years at their daughter's gravesite. Nelda is sometimes too stubborn for her own good, but given her circumstances, her actions are understandable. What seems to be stubbornness is more of a defense mechanism because she doesn't want to get hurt again.
I enjoyed reading a book set in 1958-59 - years of my childhood and can remember time spent at my grandparents' farm during that same time which really helped this story come alive. I hope more authors will take the chance of writing less than traditional time-periods for their books as Garlock has. It was, for this reviewer, like a trip down memory lane.
According to the notes on the copyright page, MORE THAN MEMORY is evidently a rewrite of one of Dorothy Garlock's early books written as Johanna Phillips in 1982 for the Second Chance at Love line, PASSION'S SONG. At over 380 pages, it's more than just a simple rewrite, it's a complete re-working of the shorter novel.