Cheating at Solitaire
Ally Carter’s debut novel is remarkable more for what it isn’t than what it is. It’s not about a young woman living a life of quiet desperation as a singleton in the city. It’s not about serial dating and depression over the lack of a man in the heroine’s life. It’s not about the heroine slogging away in a job for a boss who either doesn’t appreciate her or doesn’t love her. What it is is a pleasant story of a young woman making of her life what she chooses. And much as I hate to admit it, the book suffers for its lack of neuroses and dysfunction. Mostly happy heroine finding a nice guy she likes who likes her back just isn’t that much of an emotional grabber, agreeable though it may be.
Julia James stumbled into her life as a self-help guru. Her guides for single women are a bigger success than she ever thought possible and her no-nonsense advice is lauded. Julia is happy being single and her contentment is what she hopes to pass on to her readers. To her mind women don’t need to be in a relationship to be happy and her tips for solitary satisfaction are reasonable and practical. With her new book just hitting the stores, she is coasting to another best-selling record. That record is endangered by a potential scandal. Someone in the media has a shot of Julia with a man and the press goes wild claiming that this uber-single gal is secretly in love.
Lance Collins is a struggling actor trying to make it in New York. While trying to meet a hard-charging agent he inadvertently messes with Julia’s professional reputation. Though the mistake helps his career (people now know his name) Lance will do what is necessary to make things right for Julia. When Julia decides to escape to her home in Tulsa, Lance decides to ride along. If they can get out of the media spotlight for a bit, maybe the story will die down.
Though their plan to “disappear” in Tulsa doesn’t make much sense – hard to believe you can scotch a rumor you’re a couple if you’re living in the same house – Lance and Julia are likable and intelligent characters. Plot points aside (and that’s what they’re there for) they strike enough sparks to make rooting for them come naturally. As I was reading I truly appreciated the fact that their baggage is wonderfully commonplace. Julia has been on her own so long, she isn’t even aware of her commitment issues. Lance wants nothing more then to make it on his own merits as an actor, even with the enticement of insta-fame that comes with this mini scandal.
I thank the author for not making Julia another stereotypical miserable woman in the city desperate for a guy. Dysfunctional behavior is used too often in the place of developing a realistic relationship with genuine conflicts. And yet…while I applaud Ms. Carter’s attempts to do something different and refreshing with this Chick Lit novel, she didn’t quite hit the mark. Because of the lack of meat, so to speak, there’s very little to hang a story on. So though forced angst is unpleasant and a chore to read, a total lack of emotional conflict doesn’t quite work either.
Ms. Carter’s straightforward writing style and likable characters are enough to keep her on my list of authors to watch. They aren’t enough to truly recommend this novel, pleasant as it may be.