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REVIEW: Naughty & Nice 3-Story Bundle (Room at the Inn,...

Dear Ms. Knox, Ms. O’Keefe, and  Ms. Sloan:

I suspect a conspiracy. Every anthology I’ve read this year, composed of three novellas, contains one novella much weaker than the other two. I can’t figure out if the point is to get the writer of the lesser work to be considered a writer on par with the other writers in the anthology, or if it’s a way to get something purchased simply because it’s connected to authors who write and thus sell well. Naughty and Nice is  a classic example of the two good, one bad syndrome. The first novella, Room at the Inn, an inspired re-imagining of It’s a Wonderful Life by the wonderful Ruthie Know is, well, wonderful. I liked it enough to add it to my best of 2012 list. The second, All I want for Christmas by Molly O’Keefe is a prequel to the next novel in her quite good Crooked Creek Ranch series and, though unsettling, is well-written and interesting.  The third, One Perfect Christmas by Stephanie Sloan has almost nothing to recommend it: it’s dull, predictable, and full of forced scenes. I’ve never read any of Ms. Sloan’s other works–she has a series called Regency Rakes that’s not been reviewed here at Dear Author. One Perfect Christmas is not an inducement for me to do so.


 Naughty & Nice 3-Story Bundle Room at the Inn
is a holiday gift of a tale. I’ve always had a few quibbles with Capra’s Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. I’ve longed for George to be able to see the world and have Mary and for Mary to have had a fulfilling life whether or not she’s Ms. George Bailey. I almost feel that the message of the movie is the rather dark life may be wonderful but living it isn’t at all inherently so. Don’t misunderstand me–I enjoy watching Capra’s classic. I love the fact this revered and popular American cultural icon celebrates of the lives and dreams of America’s everyday working men and women. But, when I read Ms. Knox’s sly reboot Room at the Inn, I got all tingly inside. Her George Bailey–here named  Carson Vance–and Mary Hatch–here named Julie Long–transcend them limits of the characters that inspired them in ways that are a joy to behold.

Carson and Julie met years ago in college. From the moment they sat down next to each other, they’ve been enmeshed. For the first couple of years, when they were still in school, they lived together, bickering madly, making love every chance they got. When Carson brought Julie, a Manhattan rich girl, to visit his parents and home in the upstate New York town of Potter Falls, Julie found a place she wanted to stay forever. She’s lived the past sixteen years of her life in Potter Falls…without Carson.  Ever since he was a boy, he yearned to escape from Potter Falls, see the world, and do great things in it. He’s a traveled the globe, building embassies for the Foreign Service, never staying anywhere for more than a year.  Over the past sixteen years, he’s come home every few years, checking on his parents and, until six years ago, making love to Julie “at the wrong moments for the wrong reasons. In back rooms, broom closets, hallways. One memorable occasion behind the woodpile.” Currently, though, sex with Julie is not on his Christmas list.

He’d stopped allowing himself “accidents” with Julie years ago, when his mother had not-so-delicately implied that he was stringing her along, and she needed to get on with her life.

If it were up to Julie, the two would probably still be knocking snow boots.

Julie had never been able to resist him—had in fact only quit sleeping with him because he’d stopped trying to get her to. Which was both a profound relief and a terrible blow to her pride.

….And he always did this to her. One minute in his presence, and she was thinking about kissing him. Five minutes, and her mind’s eye would be screwing him on the kitchen table. Within an hour, she’d be spinning impossible fantasies again.

This holiday season, it’s the first time Carson’s come home in three years–he notably missed his mother’s funeral. His mother Glory and his father Martin were Julie’s parents of choice and closest friends. While Carson has been to the far reaches of the planet, Julie has stayed and made a happy, meaningful, productive life for herself in Potter Falls. She’s the lifeblood of the little town, making her little corner of the world a loving, interesting, engaging place. Since Glory died, Martin has seemingly slowly fallen to pieces and Julie–and his father’s social worker–made it clear to Carson he needs to come home and spend some time taking care of his dad. When Carson arrives home, his father tells him he can either sleep on the couch or he can ask Julie if he can crash in one of the rooms in the gorgeous old mansion she’s turned into a successful seasonal Inn. Carson, despite knowing it’s a bad idea–he knows he’ll never be able to give Julie what she really wants from him–decides purgatory with Julie is better than trashing his back on the sofa so he heads over to her place and asks for a room.

“I need a room.”
“I don’t have any rooms.”
“Sure you do. The lot’s empty.”
“I’m closed right now. I only open in the winter for a few weeks around Christmas. Right now, I’m just cleaning and decorating.”
“How can you make a living if you’re only open in the winter?”
“Isn’t that kind of a personal question?”
Carson’s mouth quirked. “We don’t do personal questions anymore?”
“We don’t have a personal relationship. We’re not friends. We’re not—”
She shouldn’t even say the word lovers. Too many memories attached to it. And not just ancient, sixteen-year-old, buried-deep-beneath-the-earth memories. It was only five or six years since the last time she slept with him. Before that, for about a decade, they’d hooked up practically every time he blew through town—on his initiative and hers. Her place, his car. Anywhere.
So many errors in judgment attached to the same crooked smile. The same pair of hands. The same tall, lean, hard body.
When Carson came to Potter Falls, he just sort of … happened to her.

Nonetheless, she agrees to let him stay and he offers to help her get the place in perfect running condition for her soon to arrive holiday guests. It’s a great set-up. Julie has never stopped loving Carson and his absence has, in romantic ways, limited her life. But in other ways, she’s thrived. She has the home she’s always longed for in Potter Falls with good friends, work (including a part-time job a the library!) she enjoys, and people who care for her profoundly. Carson, faced with Julie in all her adult glory, begins to question what it is that might really make him happy for, the longer he stays in Potter Falls, the more he comes to suspect his current choice of being always away isn’t necessarily the right one for who he is now. Julie and Carson struggle with each other in fresh and real ways–I loved their relationship.

Room at the  Inn also has a lovely anti-villain in Leo Potter, Carson’s ex-best friend, current enemy, and owner of almost all that is Potter Falls. Ms. Knox has an attuned ear for dialog and every time Leo opens his mouth, he’s funny, wise, and, in all the best ways, determined to find a happy ending for all in Potter Falls. Here, for example, he elegantly queries Carson on why Carson, in tenth grade, stopped being his closest friend.

Leo sort of smiled and shook his head. He leaned back against the booth, his legs widespread, his open face disarmed in a way that made Carson uncomfortable. “Do you even remember why you hate me?”
“I don’t hate you.”
“Don’t bullshit a bullshitter. I’m curious. Do you remember?”
“ ’Course I remember.”
He hated Leo because they’d been best friends. From somewhere in the mists of time around second grade all the way through to their sophomore year in high school, Leo was always over at the house, eating Mom’s cookies, playing Legos, watching TV, and doing homework with him. Until they’d fought.
“Then say it.”
“We argued.”
“About?”
“About me leaving.” Story of his life.
Carson took a bite of the grilled cheese. It was dry and cold, and he had to work hard to chew it.
“You said Potter Falls was a shitty little backwater, and you couldn’t get out of here fast enough.”
“And you said you were going to own the place one day, and I was going to die alone out in the world somewhere, and nobody would notice or care.”
Leo nodded. “So why was that it for us?”
“What do you mean?”
Leo leaned forward. “It wasn’t much of an argument, Carse. You insulted Potter Falls, which you knew damn well means a lot to me, and I was pissed off because I cared more what you thought than anybody else. And jealous because you were going to leave me here for something better, and I knew even then I’d never leave. I said something in the heat of the moment that I later regretted. We were fifteen. Why didn’t you ever get over it?”

Lastly, a Room at the Inn is as hot as the Heat Miser.  It won’t surprise anyone Carson doesn’t successfully play the role of the Virgin Mary at this particular inn. I adored the love scenes between Carson and Julie and have a particular fondness for two: one in which Julie asks about Carson’s preference for “Cowgirl” and the other in which Carson explains what it means when he, in certain contexts, agrees to eat dirt. I can’t bring myself to spoil even a line of these for Dear Author readers so, if you’re curious, read the damn novella. I give it an A-.

 

 

(The following review contains spoilers in that it shares knowledge about the main characters gleaned from an earlier published book by Ms. O’Keefe.)

I confess to being somewhat disconcerted by Ms. O’Keefe’s All I Want for Christmas is You. Any who have read the second book in the Crooked Creek Ranch series know, in the present, the protagonists of this book, Maddy Baumgarten and Billy Wilkins, are estranged and divorced.  All I Want for Christmas is You is actually the prequel to Ms. O’Keefe’s next novel–it tells the modern-day story of Maddy and Billy– due out in January. The four short chapters which make up this novella tell a story of Christmas past, one where Maddy is two days away from turning 18, Billy is 20, and the two are planning, on Maddy’s birthday, the day after Christmas, to elope. Knowing a) the two did indeed marry and b) it ended badly, makes the novella hard to read as anything but a cautionary tale.

As the novella begins, Maddy has come to Billy’s depressing home to collect him for a holiday dinner with her parents where Billy and Maddy plan to tell the Baumgartens about their impending nuptials. Billy and Maddy live in a run-down part of Pittsburgh–Billy in particular comes from an awful family whose family members exist only to drag him down to their depths. Billy has a ticket out of his dead-end world: he’s a second round draft pick in the NHL and is currently playing in the Junior A’s in Rochester. He’s ready to leave town–he’s rented an apartment in Rochester–and he wants to take Maddy with him. Billy cares for only two things in life: hockey and Maddy.

Maddy’s life is externally and internally richer than Billy’s. She’s the only daughter of loving parents who’ve worked to give her a warm and supportive home. Furthermore, unlike Billy, Maddy’s school smart. She’s already managed to cram her whole senior year into the first semester so she can graduate early. She loves Billy every bit as much as he loves her just not quite so single mindedly. Maddy has the chance to be the first person in her family to go to college but she’d rather run away with Billy…or so she thinks most of the time. Her parents want what’s best for her. They see how young she and Billy are, how much he loves her, how hard their life together will likely be.

All I Want for Christmas is You is a melancholy story.  As written by Ms. O’Keefe, Maddy and Billy come across as so damn young. I thought they were too damn young–especially Maddy–to marry. There are aspects of their relationship that make me uncomfortable. Billy has a temper Maddy is very aware of–I worried what that might portend for the two as they faced all the stress adult life brings. Billy is Maddy’s first and only lover and the power of that connection–as is so often true in first love–obscures the darker edges of Billy’s overwhelming need for her.  As I turned the pages, I hoped they would not marry on Maddy’s birthday; I couldn’t see a happy ending for them as Mr. and Mrs. Billy Wilkins, ages 18 and 20. I concede my perspective on their marriage is colored by knowing that it doesn’t work out the way they dream it will but, even had I not known their future, I wouldn’t have wanted them to tie the knot at City Hall.

Ms. O’Keefe is a terrific writer. Her characters seem genuine and her depictions of place–both physical and social–are stellar. She’s deftly nuanced; her books create a layered and complex world where choices are never starkly right or wrong. Here, Billy gives his seventeen year old sister, already a hard-core junkie, the money she asks him for:

“Oh, sorry,” Denise whispered, shuffling sideways out the door. “Hey, Billy … do you … do you have any money?”
“Yeah,” he whispered back. “Check my coat pocket downstairs.”
“Thanks.” Denise’s eyes lit up as much as they ever did anymore, and she hurried from the room, pulling the door shut behind her. When Billy turned back around he caught sight of Maddy’s scowl. “Babe, it’s twenty bucks.”
“Twenty bucks she’ll spend on drugs.”
“What am I supposed to do?”
“Not give her money.”
Billy shrugged, but she could see right through him, like she always did, like she always had, and the sad truth was that Billy was lost with his sisters.
Their parents in the years since the accident had become non-issues. His father never stepped foot back in the house and Billy’s mother had lost any sort of usefulness years ago. She was a shell, full of booze and regrets, unable to look at Billy without bursting into tears. Which left Billy caught, with no idea how to help Janice and no idea how to say no to Denise. Not when he’d just been given the key to his NHL dream. His salary, even in the minors, was more money than he’d ever had. And it just wasn’t in Billy’s nature not to share.

All I Want for Christmas is You is not an upbeat holiday read. It is, however, interesting and tragic in a way rarely found in romance. I’m glad I read it and I’m glad Ms. O’Keefe is willing to take risks even in the cheeriest of seasons. I give it a B-.

 

 

The first time I tried to read One Perfect Christmas I couldn’t get through it. There was a disgruntled donkey named Reginald, a hero named Lucas wandering around his estate in the snow while walking Reginald and reading a heavy-handed missive from his mother (Lucas’s not Reginald’s), and a heroine named Lucy who loves Lucas but is determined she must marry another. I read for about fifteen minutes, realized I hadn’t registered any of what I’d read and put the book down. I’d not have bothered to give it another go had I not decided to review the collection.

The second time I tried to read One Perfect Christmas I was able to make myself finish it. I took in Lucy’s silly behavior, Lucas’s odd responses to all sorts of things including but not limited to the ass, Lucy’s declaration of love, Lucy’s declaration of non-love, and Lucas’s meddlesome mother. I realized I didn’t like Lucy, Lucas, or the ass and didn’t care if any of them ended up together. And, given that I was almost certain neither Lucy nor Lucas would wed or bed Reginald (although Lucy’s ass and Reginald are, at one point, are both grabbed by Lucas), it came as no surprise when they bedded and promised to wed each other.

I can’t recommend it, not even to those who like light sweet historicals. It’s just too dull and mundane. I give it a D.

 

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I loved romances when, back in the mid 70's, in junior high, I read every Barbara Cartland novel I could check out from the library. Then, thanks to a savvy babysitter, I got my hands on the hot stuff. To this day I can remember how astonishingly steamy I found Rosemary Rogers' Sweet Savage Love. I abandoned romance when I went to college and didn't pick one up again until 2007 when I got my first Kindle. Since then, I’ve read countless romances; loved many, liked more, hated some. Most of what I read is historical and contemporary romance, but I’m open to almost any genre. I like my books to have sizzle, wit, and plots that make sense. I’d take sexy over sweet any day. I’m a sucker for smart heroes and smart-mouthed heroines. When not reading or writing about reading, or wishing I could rule the world, I'm meddling in the lives of my kids--I have four, ages 17 to 21--, managing my husband's practice, doing bossy volunteer work, and hanging out with Dr. Feelgood.

24 Comments

  1. willaful
    Dec 13, 2012 @ 12:12:16

    I didn’t have that prior knowledge about Maddy and Billy going in and I still didn’t want them to get married. I think O’Keefe did an excellent job of setting up why they got divorced, but there was no way it was a complete story with a happy ending, which is not an unreasonable thing to expect in this sort of anthology.

  2. Sarah
    Dec 13, 2012 @ 12:16:53

    So, is Leo Potter getting a story? His exchange with Carson definitely caught my eye.

  3. Ridley
    Dec 13, 2012 @ 12:24:40

    I only read Knox’s novella and, as much as I wanted to love it, it left me really, really disappointed. That “grand gesture” in the church at the end undid all of the wonderful, hard work she had put into showing Carson’s change of heart. In one emotionally manipulative public stunt, he was back to being selfish Carson concerned only with getting what he wants with no regard for the feelings of others. It ruined what had been a 5* read for me up until that point.

    I can accept a grand gesture like that as a symbolic gesture in a melodramatic book like a Presents. When paired with such a true-to-life story like this had been, however, it asks me to read it literally. And a literal reading of what Carson did shows me a manipulative manchild, not a romance hero who’s grown as a person.

  4. Angela
    Dec 13, 2012 @ 12:32:50

    Isn’t the next book in the Crooked Creek Ranch series about Maddy and Billy getting back together?

    I really, really want to read Room at the Inn. I’m on hold for this at my digital library right now though – 40 out of 40 I think…

  5. Kelly
    Dec 13, 2012 @ 12:55:05

    *rubs hands gleefully* I’ve been waiting for this Groveling Grand Gesture discussion….

    (hopefully no spoilers below….)

    I’m a complete sap for the Grand Gesture, and I could totally picture that whole scene happening in my small-town church, so I loved it. But I have a feeling if I read a scene like that in anything other than a holiday story, I’d unleash the snark.

    I think Carson *needed* to go wildly out of character to convince Julie that he wasn’t just saying what she wanted to hear. And he wasn’t just groveling to Julie – by publicly grandstanding in front of half the town, he was apologizing to his extended family and friends as well.

    Also, I completely agree about the historical story – absolutely *nothing* to recommend it.

  6. Mandi
    Dec 13, 2012 @ 13:00:08

    I adored the Ruthie Knox story. I thought it was so clever and so, so sexy. And yes to Leo – what a great anti-villain. So excited to read her new books this coming year.

    (I didn’t read the other two..don’t think I will)

  7. Ridley
    Dec 13, 2012 @ 13:12:59

    @Kelly: What was out of character about it? How is putting someone on the spot embarrassingly in public “apologizing?”

  8. Kelly
    Dec 13, 2012 @ 13:49:58

    @Ridley:

    I thought the public declaration was out of character for Carson because it seemed completely antithetical to the aloof, emotionally detached assholery he hid behind.

    A “putting someone on the spot” scene is such a visceral personal thing – for some people it’s the most romantic thing ever, for others it’s the equivalent of death by staring. Ros Clarke’s Twelve Days novella has a completely different – and yet still oh-so-romantic – take on it.

  9. Dabney
    Dec 13, 2012 @ 14:00:44

    @Ridley: The first time I read the novella, the church scene threw me. I’m not much for those sort of grand gestures. However, when I read the story again, I saw it in the context of what would most speak to Julie–Carson declaring himself in HER world–and it worked better for me. I don’t think it was selfish on Carson’s point. He knows Julie wants nothing more than a future with him–it’s not a cruel surprise.

  10. Janine
    Dec 13, 2012 @ 14:43:03

    I’ve only read A Room at the Inn so far, and while I didn’t hate it, I didn’t love it like I did Knox’s About Last Night or like it anywhere as much as Ride with Me. Here are my issues in a nutshell:

    1) I thought we learned Carson’s reasons for staying away from Potter Falls too late in the story. By this I mean is that for much of the novella I thought he was an asshole for jerking Julie around the way he did, and when I learned the reason why, the explanation came too late to undo the way I’d felt about him all that time.

    2) Then there’s Julie. What am I to make of a young woman who not only gives her college boyfriend’s mother a kidney, but, after she and her boyfriend break up, drops out of college to move to his hometown, becomes his mother’s best friend, joins all the same committees and activities the mother leads, and, after the mother passes away, takes on her ex-boyfriend’s mother’s role in all the same committees and groups? Oh, and to top it all off, she also purchases her ex-boyfriend’s dream house in the same town and fixes it up as a Bed and Breakfast in exactly the ways her ex-boyfriend dreamed of doing.

    In another, more complex, more interesting story, such a character would be called on having all the signs of a dysfunctional fixation on her ex-boyfriend’s life. Julie’s actions seem obsessive and possibly passive-aggressive, in an unhealthy way. I don’t have a problem with that per se, but what I do have a problem with is that none of this is seriously explored in the story. Julie is drawn as in love with Carson, yes, but nothing about that love is portrayed as unhealthy/obsessive/manipulative, all of which her actions are.

    It’s like Knox started out with this complex set up but didn’t really want to dig deep. And that’s a lost opportunity as well as a source of frustration to me as a reader, because I started out sympathizing with Carson and wanting him to get away from Potter Falls and Julie as fast as he could, at least until Julie worked out her issues, before I figured out that I was meant to sympathize with Julie more.

    3) It probably didn’t help that I’m not wild about small town settings when they are portrayed as in some way superior to big cities. This story struck me that way and that is not a favorite theme of mine.

    4) The grand gesture. As others have said, it was jarring.

    5) This is a minor nitpick but one of the minor characters used the words “I’m fixin’ to…” I lived in upstate New York for two decades and never heard anyone who lived there use that expression. It’s not local to that area. If I hadn’t lived in upstate New York, I probably wouldn’t have noticed this though.

    Even with all these nitpicks there was much I enjoyed in the story. The love scenes were hot, as you say, and I loved the way Julie and Carson’s on-again-off-again relationship was depicted as stopping and resuming. I’ve never seen that in a romance before but it’s true to the way some relationships can be in real life, and I really appreciate it when authors do something different.

    I also really liked the little details about the inn’s restoration, stuff like Carson’s work on the ceiling. The snow and cold felt real too and I liked Leo and Carson’s relationship. The story was absorbing and I’m not sorry I read it, so it gets a C+.

  11. Sunita
    Dec 13, 2012 @ 16:16:59

    He’s a traveled the globe, building embassies for the Foreign Service, never staying anywhere for more than a year.

    Wait. I’m confused. US Embassies are usually built by private companies, after a bidding process. What does the Foreign Service have to do with it?

  12. cbackson
    Dec 13, 2012 @ 16:31:07

    @Janine: Man, I was starting to feel like I was the only one who had that reaction to what I’ve come to think of as small-town-superiority plotlines. There’s a deeply reactionary undercurrent there, in my opinion.

  13. Janine
    Dec 13, 2012 @ 16:39:23

    @cbackson: No, you’re definitely not alone! I’ve heard from others who don’t care for small-town superiority. Isobel Carr brought it up on Twitter very recently when we were discussing a different book.

    BTW, About Last Night, my favorite Knox so far, takes place in London so it’s not a pattern with this author. But I can think of other authors whom it is a pattern with, and with some of them, it does strike me as reactionary.

  14. Isobel Carr
    Dec 13, 2012 @ 16:45:52

    I think many of us who love big cities and have chosen to live in them are turned off by the rosy glow that so many romances bestow upon small town life (as if small town somehow equates to morally superior life choices). I know it’s a common reason for disliking/avoiding certain contemps among the readers I know.

  15. Kelly
    Dec 13, 2012 @ 17:10:21

    @Isobel Carr, et al:

    Keep in mind that Room at the Inn was inspired by It’s a Wonderful Life – the *epitome* of glorifying small-town life. I don’t think the story could have worked in any other context.

    Those of us who choose to live in flyover country also find most “small-town” romances to be revoltingly idealistic, but phrases like “reactionary” and “morally superior” raise my hackles.

  16. Dabney
    Dec 13, 2012 @ 17:13:30

    @cbackson: I don’t see it that way. I’d rather live in an urban environment but there are those who tire of that and find small town life more their style. If anything in the story is reactionary it’s the idea that an interpersonal relationship can be more important to someone than one’s professional or intellectual life. In that way, most of romance is reactionary at least when measured against many modern norms.

  17. Dabney
    Dec 13, 2012 @ 17:19:20

    @Janine:

    Julie’s actions seem obsessive and possibly passive-aggressive, in an unhealthy way. I don’t have a problem with that per se, but what I do have a problem with is that none of this is seriously explored in the story. Julie is drawn as in love with Carson, yes, but nothing about that love is portrayed as unhealthy/obsessive/manipulative, all of which her actions are.

    I disagree with your perspective on Julie’s love.

    Julie has work, friends, and purpose in her life. It’s also true that Carson matters more to her than all of that. That doesn’t mean her love is unhealthy. If it led her to abuse, poverty, alcoholism, or depression, I’d worry for her. It doesn’t and I don’t.

  18. willaful
    Dec 13, 2012 @ 17:24:27

    I agree with Kelly — I’m thoroughly sick of small town romance in general, but in this case it really couldn’t be anything else.

  19. Janine
    Dec 13, 2012 @ 17:55:55

    @Dabney: Apparently I didn’t communicate clearly.

    I didn’t say that Julie’s love was unhealthy — in fact I said that it’s clearly portrayed as healthy. I said her actions are unhealthy.

    Let me phrase it this way: If you had a daughter, who, at age 20, donated her kidney to her boyfriend’s mother, dropped out of college and moved to the now ex-boyfriend’s hometown, joined all the ex-boyfriend’s mother’s activities, became best friends with her, took over her roles in the community when she passed away, purchases the ex’s dream house and renovated in the same ways he had dreamed of doing, and pined for him for years on top of all that, you would not be concerned about your daughter?

    I’m asking that you divorce Julie’s inner thoughts, what other characters think of her, her love and other emotions as portrayed in the story, from her actions, and view those actions alone, in isolation. Would a healthy picture emerge from the actions alone?

    The point I’m trying to make is that the character’s actions are at odds with the rest of the way she is portrayed, and this was something I found jarring, as well as a lost opportunity.

  20. Dabney
    Dec 13, 2012 @ 18:44:41

    @Janine: Well, as long as my daughter’s choices turned out as well as Julie’s, I’d be fine. I know that’s not what you’re saying, but I think it’s relevant in the way we judge the choices women make.

    When I was in college in the early 80′s the doctrine was that marrying and having children rather than pursuing a career was a choice far more likely to end in poverty and depression than pursuing a career. I’ve watched how those choices played out for women in my generation and it’s not been quite as clear cut. For starters, it turns out to matter hugely how much support–emotionally and financially–young women had before they made those choices. Women from the upper middle and upper classes were more able to take relational risks; they could trust that were their marriages to end, they wouldn’t end up destitute. It’s not socially equitable but it’s still true.

    Julie comes from money. Her choices were never going to ruin her–she had a freedom to dote on Carson and Potter Falls that most wouldn’t. And this story is about Julie–not about a woman per se. Thus, for Julie, I think her choice is viable.

  21. Janine
    Dec 13, 2012 @ 19:38:34

    @Dabney: I get what you’re saying, and it’s not that I think her choice isn’t viable, it’s more that I think that in a real person those actions would be a marker of dysfunction. And dysfunction doesn’t mean not viable, either, because IMO most people are maladjusted in one way or another, and they manage to function, just maybe not optimally.

    In any case, I don’t see my issue here as being about whether Julie’s choices are feminist in the same way that some of those debates about women working vs. staying at home were. The maladjustment I see in Julie’s actions are that her dreams all revolve around Carson’s former life — his town, his mother, his mother’s committees, his dream house, etc. From the outside looking in (without access to her thoughts and feelings) it would seem that her objectives don’t come from within herself, but rather, that she is copying his mother. And most of this is after he has broken up with her, so that’s what makes it seem obsessive/unhealthy to me, like something out of one of those movies or books where one person copies the life of a friend, and then that person turns out to be a deranged stalker.

    Not that Julie was deranged or a stalker, but her actions could have easily fit that profile, as well as a less extreme but still not so healthy profile.

    And when I tried to put myself in Carson’s shoes at the beginning of the novella, and think about how I would feel if some guy I had broken up with had donated his kidney to my dad, moved to my hometown, become my dad’s closest friend, took up all my dad’s activities, bought my dream house, etc.. And well, in a real life scenario like that, I would be extremely uncomfortable with that and feel that my ex was stalking me.

    At the same time, I think that an interesting story could be written about someone who made the choices Julie made for not-so-great reasons, rather than out of reasons a reader is intended to find romantic. For my money, that could have been fascinating as well as truthful.

    What I’m saying is that I feel Julie would have been a more convincing character, as well as a more interesting one, had Knox explored the reasons why a woman might be most likely to make such choices in real life, rather than in a fairy tale.

  22. Dabney
    Dec 13, 2012 @ 20:03:44

    @Janine: I do see what you see. But I don’t see Julie’s dreams as Carson’s–they were hers. I see it as the choice made by someone who finally found what made her happy–Carson was who connected her to her dream but the dream was hers.

  23. Janine
    Dec 13, 2012 @ 20:34:53

    @Dabney: Yes, you’re right — but that was all filled in with her thoughts and Carson’s thoughts. You’re talking about the Julie Knox portrayed in the story, And I’m talking about that character’s actions as opposed to the full picture. I’m not talking about Julie herself, the person in the world of the story, as portrayed by Knox, but rather, I’m attempting to take apart the characterization and isolate the character’s actions from the character’s thoughts and other characters’ thoughts about her — mainly because I saw that aspect of the character as clashing/at odds with how we were told to view her via everyone’s thoughts.

  24. Friday Giveaway: Salted Caramel Edition | Ruthie Knox
    Dec 14, 2012 @ 10:00:54

    [...] at the Inn got a lovely, thoughtful A- review from Dabney at Dear Author yesterday, which spurred a really interesting discussion in the comments that has me thinking about [...]

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