Monday, November 14, 2011

Always Something There

On Saturday night I had nothing major to do, but I didn't want to sit down and read anything serious or heavy. After spending about an hour flicking through movies on demand and concluding that there are enough good movies out there to fill Jennifer Aniston's big toenail, I decided to read something silly and girly. Here's what I chose:

You might wonder why I had this book in my house at all, because I'm not really a fan of Beth Harbison. I did read Shoe Addicts Anonymous and Secrets of a Shoe Addict (the latter was disappointing, because I was looking for a sequel and ended up with three new main characters- and not a whole lot of shoes). My opinion of Beth Harbison is that she knows how to spin an interesting plot and writes reasonably deep characters. However, I find her writing style lacking. More on that later. At any rate, the reason I had the book in my house is because I'm kind of a sucker for a pastel cover. They attract my attention, which I'm sure was the publisher's intention. 

The plot of this book is pretty straightforward. Erin, who is in her late thirties with a teenage daughter, receives a marriage proposal from her boyfriend Rick. Rick seems to have it all: he's smart, handsome, successful, and most importantly, he's a surrogate father to Erin's daughter Camilla. And yet when Rick says those magic words, will you marry me, the first thing that flashes across Erin's brain is Nate. Nate is the name of her ex-boyfriend, the guy she dated for two years in high school, her first and most powerful love. She hasn't spoken to Nate in years, and yet now that Rick has proposed, he's all she can think about. Naturally, he pops back into her life, and though now married to her ex-friend, seems to be feeling the same way toward Erin. The story is told through Erin's first person point of view in the present, interspersed with flashbacks to high school in third person point of view. 

It's that tired, old, magic formula: Boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, and (many years later) girl and boy find each other again. It's the stuff of romantic comedies, and indeed, I wouldn't be surprised if this book were made into a movie, starring, say, Katie Holmes as Erin (she's pretty, has chemistry with her co-stars, and is very capable of playing the girl-who-can't-decide: Dawson's Creek, anyone?). However, there are some interesting twists, and the flashback material is engaging enough that the weakness of the plot isn't noticeable while reading. It was only afterward that I realized how simplistic it was.

As I said earlier, I find Beth Harbison's writing style lacking. She's a very plain writer. She uses all those descriptions that creative writing teachers hate: "great" "pretty" "nice." She rarely describes a scene or a person so that the reader can truly see it. Some of her sentences are so awkward or cliche that they actually make me wince as I'm reading. For example: "We all knew she was doing it to mark her territory as surely as if she'd peed on him." Sentences like that make me wonder why she's even published.

There is one thing that Harbison does well in this book, though. She's able to truly capture the passion and utter vulnerability of a first love, and the feeling, after the breakup, as if a piece of the self is lost forever. I really felt like she hit the nail on the head with every scene between Erin and Nate: Erin's youthful passion, Nate's distanced emotion, their mutual willingness to take leaps with each other over and over again, which made the ending of the book realistic (which it would not have been if Harbison hadn't described the relationship so well).

I'm not necessarily recommending this book, and I don't expect to pick up another Beth Harbison book again, pastel or otherwise. But if you remember your first love, if you want to revisit those feelings vicariously, this book will take you on that journey.

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