Doing Good is Pamela Morsi’s first foray into the world of mainstream women’ s fiction. And, wow, is it ever a drastic departure from the author’s trademark homespun style. Some say change is a good thing. I’d have to disagree in this case. Morsi exchanges her warm-hearted, appealing characters for a first-person narrative by a self-absorbed and emotionally stunted heroine. I never would’ve guessed that this book was written by the same author who gave us charming romances like Courting Miss Hattie and Garters if Morsi’s name hadn’t been on the cover.
Jane Lofton always wanted more out life than her blue collar upbringing could offer (unlimited money and social status for starters). So, what’s a pretty girl from an average hard-working family to do? Marry into old money, of course. Jane has achieved everything she’s ever dreamed of: a marriage to old money (AKA David), entry into one the most prestigious country clubs in the area, and a highly successful career as a realtor. So what if her husband cheats. Don’t all men? And, it’s really not a big deal that her only child apparently despises her and refuses to talk to her directly. That’s why they invented therapists, isn’t it? Jane’s got her BMW, her stylish power suits, a fabulous job and oodles of sneering, catty friends. Life is good.
Then one night Jane and her beloved Bimmer (only the clueless and cash deprived call the BMW a Beemer, you sillies) are involved in an auto accident. Trapped inside the car and in fear for her life Jane makes a deal with God to “do good” the rest of her life if she makes it through this ordeal. Moments before the car bursts into flames a knife wielding elderly man in pajamas cuts through the soft top of her convertible and sets her free. While in the hospital Jane, shaken but uninjured, visits the man who rescued her from death. Chester is much older and frailer than she imagined and when she hears his story she’s pretty certain a miracle has occurred. Jane vows to hold herself to her promise and begins her quest of “doing good”.
Jane begins, in typical Jane fashion, by doing things that make her feel good. Easy things like writing checks to charities and visiting Chester with a “reward” check. But Chester doesn’t let her get off that easy. He’s a lonely old man and tells her he has no use for her money and would like her to visit with him regularly instead. Jane’s visits with Chester are the first step to giving of herself selflessly (and are one of the best things about the book). Jane, with the help of Chester, slowly comes to realize that the littlest of good deeds sometimes have the biggest impact on others. Eventually all of the do-gooding business begins to rub off on Jane and changes her entire outlook on life (and helps her deal with some major changes in her life) but it takes a very long time for Jane to get to this point.
Jane’s personal journey is commendable and her strained relationship with her daughter was painfully believable. But (oh, you just knew that was coming!) because she begins the story without any redeeming qualities whatsoever and remains a haughty snob throughout a large portion of the book I found myself hard pressed to become all that invested in her personal growth. She gets many points for sticking to her good deeds, even when they fail, but it’s tough to sympathize with a 40ish woman who has gotten everything she’s ever wanted. A woman who snubs her nose at those she deems below her social set. This is not the type of woman whose thoughts I prefer to know intimately. Give me a woman who starts out with an actual flaw or two. Any flaw will do. As the book progresses Jane becomes slightly less abrasive and eventually comes down to earth but the air of snottiness clings to her too long. As the narrator of the story Jane needed a spot on sparkling wit to add life to the story – unfortunately, her occasional witty observations weren’t enough to elevate this story out of “C” range.
Doing Good has some amusing and engaging moments and even a nifty and unexpected romance but until nearly the very end the heartfelt emotion and warmth typical of a Pamela Morsi novel is sorely missing. Instead we get a snooty heroine who is very difficult to warm up to and scads of boring chit-chat that tends to drag down the pace of the story. Morsi has always written a slower paced book but in the past she created a cozy sense of place and characters whom I enjoyed spending time reading about. Though I liked Chester, I didn’t care for Jane for most of the story and her surroundings and lifestyle were something straight out of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famously Shallow. Since this was Morsi’s first outing in a new genre, and things did improve quite a bit towards the end, I’m willing to give her next contemporary for MIRA a try. But if she continues in this vein I’m afraid I’ll be taking yet another author off of my auto-buy list. Bummer.