It Had To Be You
Periodically, I like to see if I can sum up a book in a single word – it’s probably one of those weird quirks of a long-time reviewer. It Had to be You is a perfect candidate for the one word synopsis, and in this case the word is “innocuous.” Not as bad as “debacle”, not as good as “masterful.”
The book is basically Irish Chick Lit, and it sounded fun. It centers around three friends. Molly is an unpublished author who works in a bookstore that specializes in romance. Her life suddenly becomes more complicated when her boss sells the store to a somewhat shady opportunist who doesn’t seem to “get” romance, but at least the guy has a handsome and interesting son who comes with the bargain.
Molly’s roommate Kate works in a trendy shoe-store by day, and runs her own business part time. It’s called “Dummy Dates,” and the premise is that she takes socially challenged men on fake dates to help them learn to interact with women. As the book begins, she meets Angus, one of her dummy dates who gets under her skin. He’s a primary school teacher and all-around nice guy, and she can’t figure out why she can’t just think of him as a client. Meanwhile, she attempts to forget her old life as a prominent shoe designer in Boston, mostly because she unwittingly had an affair with a married man.
Both women are friends with Paige, a mother of two and local politician. She’s currently a councilor who is running for deputy. She has a great husband, but struggles with her oldest son Callum – a real handful. She also discovers that her usual child care center closes during the month of August, so she must scramble to find child care for Callum while enduring the ups and downs of a heated political campaign.
The book proceeds apace, with each woman ironing out her problems. Kate’s dummy-date-cum-friend Angus steps up to the plate, and lends his expertise to Paige, transforming the naughty Callum within a month’s time. Molly finds success in her writing and in her budding relationship with the store owner’s son. Paige finds out that she’s pregnant again, and she and her husband reconsider their childcare options. And Kate meets up with her old flame, who tries to convince her that he’s left his wife and really wants her now.
Everything resolves neatly. Probably too neatly, and that was my main objection to the book (which otherwise fairly screams “Unobjectionable!” – or innocuous). Every problem has a neat, tidy solution, and unlike in real life, annoying people and circumstances just go away. It almost goes without saying that romance readers are fans of the happily-ever-after ending; indeed, Happily Ever After is actually the name of Molly’s bookstore here. The problem here is that this is really fiction, not romance, and the super-sunny ending doesn’t seem quite believable. Perhaps if even one nice person had been disappointed – even in a small way – the book would have been more grounded in reality. Interestingly enough, I read this book right after finishing Debbie Macomber’s A Good Yarn, which is similar in many ways – most notably that it features several friends and rotates between their stories. I’d never thought of Macomber as a hard-hitting realist, but she’s definitely more adept than Webb at capturing the untidiness of life. Who’d have thunk it?
Of the three women, I liked Paige most, perhaps because I could identify with her as she struggled with the issues of parenting, pregnancy, and exhaustion. Her issues with problem-child Callum were perhaps too easily overcome, but then I honestly thought he was a standard issue four year old to begin with. Some kids are just high energy and into everything (like all of mine. Until my niece came along, I pretty much thought all kids were naturally this way).
It’s basically a cozy sort of read, with cute Irish characters and a fun setting. If it’s not quite real, well, I guess that’s why they call it fiction. Innocuous fiction.