I finished reading As Long as He Needs Me a few days ago but I purposely delayed my review for a bit to see if my immediate impression of the book would change over time. I think that is what happened, but only to a minor degree.
As a strict rule, I do my best to avoid “romance novels” because I have yet to find one that actually seems real to me. I do not mean to put down an entire fiction sub-genre because I know how popular romance novels are. But I know myself well enough to understand that they are not for me, a fact of life that makes reviewing one difficult. I do not know that Mary Verdick considers herself a romance novelist since this is the first of her books I have read but I would call As Long as He Needs Me a psychological romance novel. And it was the “psychological” part of the novel that appealed to me.
Kitty and Clem Johanssen have decided to celebrate their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary with the kind of cruise they have dreamed about for years. Kitty and Clem have done well for themselves in small-town America, raising a family of three children, and running a large general store in their little town. Life has not always been easy for the Johanssen family, but now the time seems right for them to splurge on their dream vacation.
The vacation, however, is destined to be nothing like what they expected. Things get shaky right from the beginning when, in a rush to get to the cruise boat on time, Clem is so slow to react to two New York City con men that they snatch all of his cash and rush off before he realizes what has just happened. Clem is understandably upset, but his immediate reaction is to blame the entire city, not himself, for what happened. It is only later, after he has had time to consider exactly how it all happened, that Clem blames himself.
Clem, though, does more than just blame himself for losing their vacation money. He allows the theft to rob him of all self-confidence and he behaves in a way that starts to undermine Kitty’s own faith in their thirty-five-year marriage. As Clem withdraws into himself more and more, and begins drinking heavily, Kitty faces a crisis of confidence almost as serious as the one he suffers – and reacts almost as badly.
Kitty, alone as she is for much of the trip, has time to think about all that has happened during her long relationship with Clem, and the reader finds that the Johanssen family has had more than its share of ups and downs. The marriage, again facing an uncertain future, is very lucky to have survived for so many years.
Mary Verdick tells a good story. There are numerous twists and turns involving every member of the family that help explain the present day behavior of her two main characters. I was at first filled with sympathy for both Kitty and Clem but, by the book’s end, my sympathy was gone, along with most of my respect. I found both characters, in their eagerness to blame their own bad behavior on the behavior of others, to be rather weak people and I started to believe that they deserve each other. That may, or may not, be what the author intended; even after an extra few days thinking about that, I am not sure.
Rated at: 3.5