July 2013: Love Walked In
Ready for Love
It isn’t exactly fate that brings 30-something hopeless-romantic Cornelia and pragmatic 11-year-old Clare together—more like the movie-star dreamy man with whom they share a connection. But the day that the two meet in the hip Philadelphia coffee shop that Cornelia manages, it’s clear that they are destined to develop a friendship. Over the next weeks, they find themselves pulling together as they navigate what life—and love—throws at them in Marisa de los Santos’s debut novel. Real Simple Editorial Assistant Tanya Christian led the July 2013 discussion of Love Walked In.
Love Walked In: Pages 1 to 102
So if you’re like me, the first third of this book had you saying “What in the world is going on?” We’re introduced to Cornelia, aka “C.C. Brown,” the 31-year-old college graduate who seems somewhat dissatisfied and yet okay with her position as a coffee shop manager. From her first interactions at her job, we can tell that Cornelia is at a place in her life where she wants more but doesn’t know exactly how to go about getting it. She coos over the baby who visits her shop (while trying to ignore the motherhood comments being thrown out by the child’s mother), mentions the fact that she is the only person she knows who hasn’t lived in New York City, has some angst over her decision to abandon her postgraduate studies, and appears bored by the choice to go to college in her hometown. By her own admission, Cornelia is just starting to “live life” at the beginning of this book.
Like a true romance, her “start” comes compliments of Martin Grace—or, as Cornelia sees it, her very own Cary Grant. I must note that as a hopeless romantic myself, I find it quite entertaining that Cornelia constantly compares life to Hollywood movies. While we all know that real life will almost never turn out the way it does on the silver screen, the idea that she holds out hope that just maybe it could is something I think many of us (or at least my unmarried self) can identify with. It’s fun to get swept up in the newness of it all and think “This very well could be IT.” So, in true hopeless romantic fashion, I got caught up with Cornelia and Martin. Date after date it just got cuter and cuter until “Date Seven” when we’re reminded that Martin is in fact a real person.
This discovery, brought on by an uncomfortable sex discussion with her voice of reason, Linny, in the “South Philadelphia cheese shop” does a great job of stripping down the fairy tale and setting us up for the connection between Cornelia and Clare.
Clare, in many ways, is the opposite of our main character. At 11, she has taken her life into her own hands. She’s smart, intuitive, forceful, and quite the little woman. Her mother’s erratic behavior, which ranges from excessive buying to leaving her on the side of the road, has forced her to be this way. We can sense that Clare’s mother did not always conduct herself in this manner, but a clear change in the times comes over that awkward lunch where she discusses with her preteen daughter the taboo (for Clare) subject of sex over a glass of red wine. While this behavior seemed somewhat negligent, the idea that this was disturbing enough to Clare that she called her father, whom she barely talks to and has a somewhat estranged relationship with, says a lot about the girl’s intuition. It’s as if she knew in those last five minutes of lunch, she had lost her mother and life as she knew it.
Clare’s preoccupation with orphans throughout the text offers a bit of foreshadowing at first and by the end of our reading makes complete sense. Clare has a mother who is “losing it” and a father who isn’t very interested in the goings-on of her day-to-day life. The same father who we find out shows very little interest in really getting to know Cornelia on a deep level. They talk all the time, but somehow what he reveals never goes beyond the surface level. This “revelation” prompts us to look at Martin, the absentee father, a lot closer. His dismissive attitude toward his ex-wife, the lack of involvement he has with Clare, and the surface conversations with Cornelia really separates Martin Grace from the Cary Grant character we thought him to be.
So what are your thoughts on Martin now that we know he’s Clare’s father? Are you still holding out hope for a happy ending with the relationship? How do you think this new discovery will change Cornelia? Post your thoughts in the comments section below. And for next week, let’s read through page 205.
Love Walked In: Pages 103 to 205 (Spoiler Alert!)
What can I say? Part II of our reading has taken us on quite the ride. Picking up from the realization that Martin is Clare’s father, I feel that we are introduced to three very different characters in Cornelia, Clare, and Martin. When we first meet Cornelia, she has no real direction or purpose, but now she has found her “something to live for” in Clare. In our first reading, we saw Clare as this take-charge little lady trying to stay afloat as the world she knows gets washed away with the odd behavior (and subsequent disappearance) of her mother. However, with the introduction of Teo, we really witness just how much of a child Clare is. And Martin… dear Martin… we already started to see the “Cary Grant” in him die out, but his true character becomes more obvious with every interaction he has with Cornelia and Clare in these chapters. Although I hate to speak ill of the fictional dead, the good-looking, smooth-talking, successful businessman has been stripped down to a negligent and selfish dud. Somewhat of a non-meaningful character, so much so that when he dies in the car crash in London, I evoked very little emotion.
While the death of Martin would typically have made for a pivotal moment, it’s obvious from Cornelia and Clare’s reaction that Martin’s inability to truly get to know others has the people closest to him somewhat unmoved by his passing. We don’t see a grief-stricken Cornelia or an “I can’t get out of bed” Clare. In fact, the only person who shows any true emotion is Martin’s ex-girlfriend, who leaves the scene as quickly as she comes in. By this point, Cornelia has made it clear that she does not love Martin (my hopeless romantic dreams were crushed) and Clare makes no qualms about telling people that her dad did not love her.
As down and disappointing as things may be getting in the lives of our main characters, I love that the author brings us Teo for a little relief. For me, he is everything I wish Martin was—loving and attentive with striking looks, a great personality, and a good sense of humor. Did I mention he can cook? (As an aside: I didn’t realize how much I wished Martin was like Teo until I found myself somewhat upset that Teo was married to Cornelia’s sister Ollie instead of her. Was it just me?)
Although the holidays are supposed to be a magical time for everyone, especially children, without Teo’s ray of light it would have been a pretty dim season in Philadelphia. He’s the one who bakes treats with Clare, goes Christmas shopping with her, and even takes her to the light show—which he did not even want to go to. And most importantly, he listens. It may not seem like much, but for Clare, just having someone to talk to and know that he genuinely has concern for what she is saying is something she has been missing out on for quite some time.
Teo has this special ability to show his love and support for the situation at hand, while still thinking practically. Although his thoughts on what should happen to Clare differ quite a bit from Cornelia’s, and maybe even ours, he brings a perspective that is mature and much needed.
So what do you think the ending will have in store for Clare and Cornelia? Do you think they’ll end up together as they are obviously hoping, or do you think Teo is right in believing the current situation should only be temporary? Also, what are your thoughts on Viviana? Do you think she’ll ever reappear? Post your thoughts in the comments section below. And for next week, let’s read through to the end of the book.
Love Walked In: Pages 206 to 307 (Spoiler Alert!)
Well, alas, we have reached the end of Cornelia Brown’s love story. In a short couple of months the transformation of this amazing character has taken her from from lost café manager to responsible young adult and, through this process, we can finally rest our search to find exactly who her “love” is.
Part III is not only critical to this discovery; it also gives us all the information we need to be okay with what we find. After our last reading, many of us were left wanting Teo and Cornelia to be together, but not really knowing how that could ever work. It almost felt like a fairy tale thought, which is why during that very pivotal car ride back to the “old neighborhood” I was met with excitement, confusion, and a sense of “Is this really happening?” For the first time we see our C.C. Brown admitting that she too felt the chemistry we saw all along, that she was emphatically in love with Teo, her sister’s (lest we forget) husband. Did anybody feel that almost-sorta moral dilemma?
(If we could, just for a moment, pause. I think this is the perfect time to take a moment away from our story and touch on the author. From the time I started reading I thought, This story is beautifully and cleverly written. But the fact that De los Santos has set this story up so well that we are rooting for our main character to be with her sister’s husband—just think about it—that is genius. Don’t you think?)
With Cornelia’s admission comes a focus shift. After the first reading, many of us thought for sure that “love” in this case was referring to Clare, but I think for the first time we can actually allow ourselves to start thinking maybe, just maybe, Teo could also be the love that Cornelia is describing. As the three of them travel together in that car it just feels “right,” like the stars are aligning and the chaos that they once knew is slowly starting to exit. Clare can feel this too. Upon their arrival at the Brown house she almost instantly finds peace. There was happiness in Clare that was present for the first time in our reading. Here, she was once again an 11-year-old girl. This elated feeling moved me so much, I started making plans for Clare in my own head: Cornelia can just pull her out of school in PA, enroll her into school locally, they can fix up Mrs. Goldberg’s place, move in there. Cornelia can get a job at the local library (since she likes books, movies, and cataloging of course), and Mrs. Sandoval and Ellie can help her out whenever she needed it. I’m a planner, what can I say? But I soon realize that, one, it’s a book so my plan is absolutely irrelevant; and, two, the reemergence of Viviana is both inevitable and necessary. When she does appear I was met with a collection of frustration, sadness, sympathy, and annoyance. What were your thoughts?
Although Viviana is Clare’s mother, I found her presenting a serious problem to the ending I had concocted in my head. I put her in the same category as Ollie, labeled “a thorn in my side.” How can Teo, Cornelia, and Clare end up together with these two women just “ruining it”? Which is why my heart beamed when that letter came from the Galapagos Islands, and why I found myself being willing to compromise when the agreement was made for Cornelia, Clare, and Viviana to live together in Mrs. Goldberg’s house. A departure from my original idea, yes, but De los Santos does such a great job of painting a picture of a less-than-complete Clare without her mother. I also feel that the more Viviana is at the Brown house, the more we can look at her as a human being, complete with faults like everybody else. The fact that she didn’t find Clare and immediately take her away from the Browns and back to their home showed a special kind of love that is indicative of a caring mother. She genuinely wants what’s best for Clare. That, I can live with.
In addition to allowing us to see the human side of Viviana, I think the author makes it a point (almost as if she had a checklist of things we would find wrong) to give everything the “okay.” Clare can be with Viviana (and without Teo and Cornelia) because Ellie and Mrs. Sandoval are there. Cornelia can finally be with Teo because Ollie never loved him and left him for another man. Cornelia can be without Clare because leaving her means finally finding her true passion in life, in of all places New York City, where (she says at the very beginning of the book) everyone in her circle of friends but her has lived. Finally Cornelia has real love and a new beginning. This is what happy endings are made of.
We’ve made it through Cornelia’s journey to true love, but our time together is not over just yet. Marisa de los Santos has agreed to answer our questions! I know I’m dying to ask a couple of things: for instance, why the odd love triangle between Ollie, Teo, and Cornelia? And in writing the book did she ever consider an alternate ending where somehow Cornelia and Clare ended up together?
I’m sure you have a host of burning questions you’d love answered as well, so put those in the comments below by the end of the day on Friday, August 2.
Thanks for reading along!
Marisa de los Santos Talks About Love Walked In
Oh, happy day: We heard back from author Marisa de los Santos, who answered questions from you about our July book, Love Walked In. See what she says below about Cornelia, Clare, and Teo (starting with: They’re featured in a sequel, Belong to Me). And while I have your attention: Don’t forget to vote for our September book, which will mark both our fifth anniversary together as a club and the return of Real Simple Managing Editor Kristin van Ogtrop as our discussion leader. And stay tuned for the conclusion of our August book, The Silver Star, tomorrow. And... Just kidding! That’s all for now.
From reader dconnolly: My question for the author is—how did she make the transition from poetry to fiction? Her writing is beautiful!
Thank you! I think poetry was a natural choice for me initially because I’ve just always loved the sound and texture of words, the odd, lovely things that happen when they bump up against each other. But, you know, I’ve always loved novels and would have been happy to write one at any time. I just never had an idea for one. Then, shortly after the birth of my second child, I started to have a voice in my head that was distinctly not mine but that I really liked. The voice took on a personality, a history, and, eventually, became Cornelia Brown. Once I had that character, her story emerged bit by bit, and then Clare appeared. I love the wide open space of a novel and find that there are still moments that require the intensity and compression of poetry and that let me dig in and play with language, which keeps me happy!
From reader karingam: Did you struggle with how to end Viviana’s journey? Were you making a statement about mental illness with that ending? What other endings for Viviana did you seriously consider?
I wasn’t making a statement about mental illness, mainly because I never plan to make a statement about anything when I write; I just try to stay true to my characters and their stories. If readers find a message to take away from my books, that’s fine, but it’s never something I set out to achieve. For a long time, I thought the book would end the way Clare wanted it to, with all three of them—Clare, Viviana, and Cornelia—living together in Mrs. Goldberg’s house. But as I wrote, it became clear that that was the wrong ending. Too tidy. Too easy. Cornelia’s challenge wasn’t to embrace Clare, which turned out to be natural and easy for her, but to let her go, give her back. However, it was important to me that Clare and Viviana end up in a larger world, with a bigger system of love and support, so leaving them with Cornelia’s family felt right.
From reader CatKib: New York was Cornelia’s place for “love,” but what about Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love?
I lived in Philadelphia for five years and loved it, and it’s the place where I first began to hear Cornelia’s voice. I think it plays an important role in the book because it’s where everything began for Cornelia and Clare; it’s where their love story—which in my mind is as important as any love story in the book—started. It was so fun to write about some of my favorite Philadelphia spots (although I left some of them unnamed or renamed them, so that I could reserve the right to tweak them as necessary!). I set part of my third novel, Falling Together, in Philly as well.
From reader xiandisc: Is Teo reminiscent of anyone in your life? How did he get to be so intuitive about Clare and yet so dull about himself, Ollie, and Cornelia? Do you have any opinion about karma (or fate), whatever you want to call it? I just downloaded Belong to Me and can’t wait to get to it. Thanks for such an engaging love story!
In my mind, I think Teo has always understood his feelings for Cornelia, which, as he tells her toward the end of the book, have been alive for a long time. He just never thought anything would come of those feelings, since until they meet up in Philadelphia after Clare arrives in Cornelia’s life, Cornelia thinks of him only as an old, close friend. I think he and Ollie went into their marriage with the spirit of adventure and chance-taking, but also with the idea that they hadn’t found love anywhere else, so maybe they could create it together. Of course, it didn’t work out that way, but I can see why they might have decided to try. I don’t think much about karma, to be honest. I don’t say that dismissively, but when I write, I think about the characters and their agency and the decisions they make. If there are larger forces at work in their lives, well, I only really see them in retrospect, not during the writing process.
From reader pchesire: Was part of the author’s plan to make us think more about the outcome of the characters?
Honestly, when I write, I never try to push the reader in a particular direction or to manipulate her or his thoughts and emotions. I simply do my best to listen to my characters, to follow their leads, and to write their stories. But that doesn’t mean I don’t care how readers respond to my books! Of course, I do. I just can’t think about these potential responses while I’m writing because I think it would interfere with the storytelling. However, I’d love to have readers finish my books and wonder about the characters’ lives beyond the ending. In the case of Love Walked In, I was so interested in that myself and missed the characters so much that I went on to write a sequel, Belong to Me.