One of the most profound things I ever heard anyone say about the reading experience is that “the relationship between the reader and the text is not casual.” In other words, the reader brings her own life story to the tale she’s about to read. That must explain part of my enjoyment as I read Handyman, Linda Nichols’s debut novel.
Single mother Maggie Ivey is at the end of her emotional rope. Stuck in a dead-end job, living on the wrong side of the Golden Gate Bridge, with a sick kid and no health insurance and a major-league creep of a boss, she reluctantly agrees to let her friend pay for a twenty-one-day course of therapy with pop psychologist Jason Golding. When she shows up for her appointment and spots the oh-so-handsome and very sympathetic-looking doctor, Maggie finally breaks down and spends almost an hour pouring her tears and her heart out.
The only problem is that the man she’s unburdened herself to isn’t Dr. Golding – his name is Jake Cooper, and he’s the contractor Golding’s hired to renovate his office. Jake doesn’t have the heart to tell the truth to the obviously overwrought young woman, so he plays along in the game of mistaken identity, embroiling himself deeper and deeper in Maggie’s troubles with every second of his deception. One appointment leads to the next, and Maggie is so happy that “Dr. Golding” is helping her so much! When, and how, is Jake finally going to come clean with her? What will Maggie’s reaction be when she learns the truth?
Yes, of course this book is 100% fantasy, and yes, at times Maggie displays TSTL (too stupid to live) qualities. Yes, Jake’s deception, while rooted in compassion, is on some level despicable. But – and this is a huge but – the theme of a knight on a white steed coming in to rescue a damsel in distress is going to find a lot of believers in the reading public.
What single mom, overwhelmed with the challenges of making it day to day in one piece, wouldn’t respond to a great-looking guy who did everything from fixing her locks, to straightening out her boss, to getting along with her child? There are an awful lot of Maggies out there, just wishing a man like Jake would come along and help them find that point where they can start over again. And that’s where I think this book succeeds: in taking that damsel out of her tower and placing her squarely in the middle of contemporary urban America.
Sure, there are some problems with the writing – the author jumps, in my opinion needlessly, into the heads of several of the minor characters, one or two of the subplots detract from the main storyline, and Nichols’s style is a little unpolished. But given the fantasy she’s articulated, I can understand why Handyman was pulled out of the slush pile and rushed into print. Take a look for yourself – if you’ve ever wished somebody would come along to work on your faucets, play with your kid, and then grab you for a soft, romantic kiss, you’ll probably enjoy this book, too.