Timeless Moments is strictly contemporary, but it takes the reader back in memory to a time when our nation was torn apart by an unpopular war and heroes returned home to little or no recognition for their valor and sacrifice. One group VIVA (Voices in Vital America) began a project during those war years to build an awareness of those soldiers who were missing or taken captive by the simple act of encouraging students and others to wear a bracelet with the name of one of those soldiers engraved on it. Bell’s new book is the story of two people touched by one of those bracelets; the soldier taken prisoner by the enemy and the young girl who received an MIA/POW bracelet from her best friend for her sixteenth birthday.
A POW bracelet isn’t all Paige received for her birthday that year. She was also presented with the breakup of her parents’ marriage and was invited to dance with a boy who would later hurt and disillusion her, break her heart, and finally divorce her to marry a woman half her age. He had divorce papers served to her while she was recuperating from a mastectomy. Thirty years after that momentous birthday she is a single mother, struggling with an unsatisfactory career, the aftermath of breast cancer, and the departure of her son for a college a few miles from his father’s home in another state. As she helps her son pack they discover a long-forgotten box of mementos from her youth. In the box is the bracelet.
Dalton McNamara was a twenty-two year old Army lieutenant in Vietnam and the year was 1972 when he led a small unit of special operations soldiers deep in the jungle on a covert mission. He sees his men killed one after another and he is seriously wounded and taken captive to spend the rest of the war in a VC prison camp. Following the war he married a Vietnamese refugee who was unable to put her nightmare past behind her until it drove her to take her own life, leaving Dalton alone to raise their independent-minded daughter.
Paige’s son, Jared, is fascinated by the bracelet and he is the one who pressures her to contact the soldier’s family to find out if the soldier made it home from the war. After thirty years Paige is skeptical the family is still at the same address and is afraid she will only stir up painful memories, but she finally agrees to write the letter. She is surprised to get an answer from Dalton McNamara’s mother who gives her Dalton’s address and encourages her to contact him. When Jared learns the former POW lives not too far from where he is going to school and his mother plans to visit her friend near his campus to be near him and to help Lou through her battle with breast cancer, he concocts a plan to make certain the two meet.
Timeless Moments is a complex story dealing with multiple themes and human emotions. There’s the tug between former marriage partners for their son’s love and attention, the younger second wife with a perfect figure, a struggle for Jared to balance priorities when his wealthy roommate lays incredible opportunities at his feet, and his father places a high premium on worldly success in contrast to his mother’s desire for him to stick to his plans for a mission-then there’s the temptation a basketball scholarship dangles before him.
Dalton’s daughter’s penchant for finding trouble and his struggle to be both father and mother to a talented, but emotionally wounded teenage daughter try him severely. His wife’s suicide, the beautiful, glamorous women in his life, and the guilt he feels because of a decision he made on that long ago mission that ended in the deaths of his men further tangle the story.
Paige’s career, moving to a different state, and all the emotional baggage inherent to her cancer surgery add their own dimension to an already unusual romance between two people well beyond the age of most romantic novel couples. This is not a handicap romance, however, but a romance between two mature adults.
Bell has done an excellent job of tying all of the diverse elements of the story together without resorting to fantastic coincidences. The problems her characters face are real and well-researched though Lou suffers more post-surgery pain than I think is usual. (Being a recovered breast cancer patient myself I have to say most of the pain is emotional until the chemo, radiation, and tamoxifin side effects kick in. I was surprised by how little discomfort I actually felt following the surgery and there was none before.)
My first reaction on reading the first chapter of Timeless Moments was Whoa! Did Michele Bell write this? Her usual style is quieter and though she quickly gets to the problem, there’s a gentler approach than the reader will discover in this book. She opens with a war scene worthy of the most suspenseful, hard-hitting action novel. Way to go!
Bell is known for realistic romances with a powerful spiritual base and this book is no exception. Though not young love or even first love, the romance builds on a solid foundation of faith in God and honest attraction between the two leading characters. Both Paige and Dalton are the kind of people who don’t depend on miracles, but trust in God to show them the way to create their own miracles. They pray, then get up and go to work. They don’t always make the right choices and they don’t always say the perfect thing, but they keep working at it.
The romance in Timeless Moments is not the only important relationship in the story. The parent/child relationships, the relationships between Paige and her former spouse and his wife, the relationship between ward members and co-workers also show keen insight, but perhaps one of the strongest relationship stories in the book is the one between Paige and her friend, Lou. Already close friends, the added bond of supporting each other through breast cancer adds another dimension to their relationship.
A large number of excellent novels were introduced at the LDS Booksellers convention in August. Timeless Moments is certainly one of the best.