Good Woman Blues
It had to happen eventually – I really had to stop reading the sixth Harry Potter. I had read it three times. My husband was starting to look at me strangely every time I picked it up, and I was quickly progressing from “enthusiastic fan” to “bordering on weird.” So to ground myself more in the land of the living, I picked up Good Woman Blues, and it ended up being a pretty good choice. Unlike Harry, with its larger than life characters and conflicts, Good Woman Blues was nicely grounded in reality, with characters who seemed like real people you might really run into on the street. For the most part, I liked it very much.
When Erikka Rochon crashes her car into the side of a building, she lands herself in a psych facility and uses the time there as a wake-up call. She thought she loved her life in the New Orleans fast lane, which came complete with a high powered job at an accounting firm, heavy weekend partying, and similarly-minded friends. Chastened by her brush with death (and admittedly, the Louisiana court system), Erikka heads to the bayou town of Loreauville to cool off. Though her mother lives in a New Orleans suburb, Erikka still has bayou relatives – and bayou roots.
This might sound like a typical city-girl-returns-home-to-precious-small-town-where-life-is-much-better book, but fortunately it’s nothing like that at all. Erikka likes the city and finds Loreauville more than a little boring. At first, “boring” suits her needs, even though she jokes that the town’s name is really “Leroyville” (and calls every man she doesn’t know Leroy, which I have to admit made this city girl snicker). Gradually, though, she becomes involved in the community. She volunteers at the senior center where her aunt works, and takes on a couple of accounting jobs. She also meets Gabriel Cormier, a local artist/woodworker with a mysterious past.
Erikka has no intention of starting anything with Gabriel. She has a lousy track record when it comes to picking men, and she came to Loreauville in the first place to get her own life together. And Gabriel has a past that’s given him some baggage – not that she cares about that, but it’s just one more thing working against them. Naturally, they can’t keep away from each other, and the relationship turns from business (Gabriel asks Erikka to straighten out his books) to friendship (they have a fun date where Gabriel reveals something about his family roots) to way more than friendship (they find themselves sleeping together on a boat).
But there’s a lot more that needs to happen before they can committ and it’s all complicated. Erikka gets a call from her old boss who offers to give her back her job – only with even more accounts. This will mean living a couple of hours away from Gabriel, but it also means that she will have to test her new-found sense of balance. Can she really go back to her old life in New Orleans without falling back into destructive habits? Will she be too much of a workaholic, too much of a partier? On top of all this, problems come up at work and Erikka will need to depend on her friends – new and old, family, and Gabriel for support.
Over all, I found this to be a solid read, and top-notch characterization is really what makes the book. Basically, everyone feels authentic and fully realized; there’s not a cardboard character in the bunch. Even those who lack a lot of screen time are simply interesting. My personal favorite was Erikka’s bi-polar lawyer friend from rehab, but I also liked Gabriel’s hot-and-cold family. One minute they are supporting each other, and the next minute mom is wondering why Gabriel can’t get back together with that nice doctor girlfriend. Gabriel almost comes to blows with his brother – but then they forgive each other and his brother has his back in the next argument. That kind of family push and pull struck a chord with me. Erikka has family issues as well, with a mother and stepfather who are on the outs and a primadonna little sister. And I haven’t even touched on her Aunt Darlene and her problems. When you come right down to it, the book has a huge ensemble cast, but what is unique about it is that no one has a walk-on part. These people did not seem to be trotting out so we could eagerly anticipate their next book.
Of course, when you are reading a romance you expect the main characters to really shine. Gabriel is a nice guy, and at times, a complicated guy. But this is really Erikka’s story. She’s the one who needs to find herself and figure out what she wants in life. She needs to learn how to make all the pieces fit together without losing her sanity, and she has some hard decisions to make, particularly at the end. She needs to figure out how to plan her career path when her job is in the city and the man she loves is firmly rooted in the countryside. The answers aren’t easy or pat, which is why this has more to offer than the ubiquitous “I came home to Podunk and married the sheriff” romances.
I also really enjoyed the New Orleans setting. I lived there for four years while my husband was in grad school, and it’s fun to read about my former home (as long as it’s done right). Emery mostly gets it right, aside from one errant trip to a non-existent Foley’s (they have Foley’s in Baton Rouge, but not N.O.). Erikka frequents restaurants I enjoyed and walked in places I’d walked. When she cooked jambalaya, I almost wanted to lick the page. If she’d only gone for a praline at Aunt Sally’s, I would have been in heaven.
So why the B-? There are just a couple of problems. The first is that at times the book seems a little disjointed. The action hops from here to there pretty quickly, and sometimes the pacing is a little off. At other times, the most exciting stuff seems to happen off-screen. For example, we are told that one of Erikka’s co-workers is about to get a real comeuppance. It’s the kind of pay-off scene that would have made for entertaining reading, but we never get to see it. The other problem is that Gabriel fades into the background toward the end of the book. It’s certainly a romance in that they end the book happily together, but the focus is more on Erikka’s professional life, and Gabriel starts to seem a little peripheral.
However, on the whole I found the book to be a worthwhile read. It’s very different from the average fare, and worth picking up for that reason alone. I’d encourage you to give it a try.