Repeat/Opening-Line Mini-Review: M. O’Keefe’s “The Heart Of It”

“She was there. At the bar wearing a dress the color of a bruise’s dark heart.”

Heart_Of_ItMiss Bates first read Molly O’Keefe’s short story, “The Heart Of It,” in the Summer Rain romance anthology, which she reviewed in 2014. Miss Bates reread it when it was recently self-published as a standalone and was struck again by its fineness, the delicacy with which O’Keefe recounts her story. “The Heart Of It” isn’t a happy story, but it is a hopeful one. Gabe and Elena’s baggage is contained in the lovely opening line. Their initial encounters are monetary, self-interested, and heartbreaking. They are bruised by life, hurt; like a bruise, visible, when pressed, painful. In O’Keefe’s description of Gabe’s perception of Elena’s skin lies the hope at the story’s heart: 

“Her skin was the color of the harvest moon, or the inside of a shell, something white and creamy and perfect.” 

Purple bruises give way to an HEA wrested from pain, like the delicate, recovering skin emerging from a fading bruise.

Miss Bates loved O’Keefe’s story even more the second time around. She reproduces (with a bit of editing) her initial impression, which can also be found in the linked review above:

Miss Bates loved Molly O’Keefe’s “The Heart Of It,” of all the stories in this anthology the most psychologically complex. Gabe was sexually abused by his hockey coach, but not utterly broken when the story opens. His parents made sure he had the help he needed. He’s 24 to Elena’s 30. They meet in a high-rise bar; below them, Toronto twinkles and beckons. Elena, child of a physically abusive father, mother deceased, mother herself to a sickly boy, Simon, is an escort. Elena’s a survivor, choosing who she gives herself to and working towards a degree, always ensuring Simon lacks for nothing. Gabe, hockey-player-huge, is a successful young adult author. Their sexual encounter is awkward and painful, but also good … funny and moving. They recognize something in each other, some vulnerability, some past hurt. They confess their painful pasts to each other and are strengthened in the telling. The rightness of their being together is evident in the final perfect scene: a woman in a red sweater, a little boy, a man, and books. It’s Christmas, what could be better and more apt for two wounded, deserving souls?

With Miss Austen, Miss Bates finds in Molly O’Keefe’s “The Heart Of It,” evidence that “there is no charm equal to tenderness of heart,” Emma.

Molly O’Keefe’s “The Heart Of It” is self-published. It’s still available in the Summer Rain anthology, or as a standalone, at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates is grateful to the author for an e-copy.

5 thoughts on “Repeat/Opening-Line Mini-Review: M. O’Keefe’s “The Heart Of It”

  1. I read this in the anthology. While I was not entirely convinced the typical escort woukd talk back to her client like that (primarily because it seems like a risky thing to do in general), it’s not impossible. I was otherwise moved and charmed by the story.


    1. Interesting! I was less convinced by the HEA: I think it was a good idea that O’Keefe used time lapses for them to reach it, though. And that made it more plausible to me. I loved Simon in that final scene! And I loved the Christmas setting too. 🙂


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