Call Waiting covers familiar territory in the Women’s Fiction landscape. It’s well-written and engaging, but other than its Australian setting, there’s really nothing new here.
Ally Tasker and Meg Lynch are old friends and fellow art school graduates living unsatisfied lives. Ally is an art teacher at a private school, a job with steady money but little fulfillment. She’s in a long-term relationship with a shallow real estate agent who keeps them moving to a new apartment every few months in a constant pursuit of the hottest property available. Meg works at an advertising agency and is beginning to feel constricted by her life with a baby son and an easy-going husband who’ll do anything for her. Ally envies Meg’s perfect life; Meg wishes she had Ally’s freedom.
When her grandfather dies, Ally leaves Sydney and heads back to her small hometown. There, she becomes involved with Matt, a hunky building contractor. Working together to renovate the dilapidated estate, he helps her begin to deal with the buried emotions caused by being abandoned by her mother and raised by a grandfather she’d always thought distant and aloof.
Meanwhile, Meg meets a hot young male model at a photo shoot who tempts her into infidelity. A free spirit who’s carefree and more than a little reckless, he’s everything her husband, who doesn’t understand the concept of spontenaity, is not. At first, Meg only sneaks out to lunch with him or takes a day off to spend with him, keeping the truth from co-workers and her husband. But soon she has to decide how far she’s willing to go to satisfy her hunger for excitement in her life.
While the two women’s stories are played off each other well, Ally’s is ultimately more successful. Unlike so many heroines in relationships with clearly unworthy men, she never comes off as unlikable or stupid. Her feelings of stagnation are relatable. She has a clear arc and grows over the course of the novel, as she quits her job, goes into business with some friends in her hometown, and slowly falls in love with Matt. Their relationship is sweet and should satisfy most romance readers. As with nearly all of Blacklock’s characters, both are nicely drawn, appealing characters.
Meg’s story is less compelling because it seems to go nowhere for too long. The author never portrays her as a bad person, and many readers may relate to the itch she feels, if not the lengths she goes to to scratch it. But her story is slow and more than a little tedious, as Meg gradually tests the limits of what she’s willing to do outside the bounds of her marriage. She constantly seems to be retreating, then moving forward, then falling back again. While this may be realistic, it doesn’t make her a character who much fun to read about. Contrasted with Ally’s growth and the steady momentum of her story, watching Meg waver, and waver, and waver tested my patience more than once. She needed to decide what to do or not do, and by the time she made her choice, I no longer cared. This portion of her story goes on so long that the aftermath feels rushed and unfulfilling. And the resolution of the issues between Meg and her husband is too quick and easy to truly satisfy.
Blacklock’s dialogue flows well, and the entire book has a light, zippy feel without losing the very real and serious emotions underlying it. But it really isn’t deep or lyrical or distinctive or compelling enough to earn a recommendation, especially not at hardcover prices. What it is is completely predictable. The Australian setting is nicely different, but isn’t vivid enough to recommend on that basis either. Call Waiting is a smooth easy read, but I have to admit that whenever I put it down, I had no particular interest in picking it up again. It’s just a little too familiar and predictable to be much more than a light read.