Someone Like Her
Someone Like You is the first novel by Janice Kay Johnson I have ever read. Although I found it extremely well-written for the most part, some elements seriously annoyed me, which led me to lower the grade.
Lucy Peterson owns and cooks for a café in her small hometown of Middleton. A special guest is the town’s only resident homeless, the hat lady, who suffers from having multiple personalities, but is extremely nice otherwise. When the hat lady is hit by a car and lies in a coma, Lucy is the one to go through her things and discover that the hat lady, whose real name is Elizabeth Rutledge, has a grown-up son who lives in nearby Seattle, only about a 90-minute drive away. Lucy goes to his office in person to give him the news and to try to get him to take responsibility for the mother.
Adrian Rutledge is a highly successful corporate lawyer and something of a workaholic. At age ten, he lost touch with his mother after his father took her to an institution to have her mental illness treated, and then subsequently divorced her. He is skeptical of Lucy’s information at first and dismissive of her person, but quickly comes to believe her story and agrees to come to Middleton to see his mother. In Middleton, Adrian both speaks and reads to the still unconscious Elizabeth, while at the same time he tries to find out more about her from Middleton’s citizens, and spends some time with Lucy, to whose generosity, kindness and unaffected beauty he finds himself attracted more and more.
The novel is written in an exquisite style. Listening to Janice Kay Johnson’s voice was an unalloyed pleasure. I also liked the characters a lot. Both Lucy and Adrian are people one would like to know; Lucy is genuinely kind without being a doormat or too sweet, and Adrian, while a bit stiff at times, tries to do what is best and takes in the (for him) new world of Middleton with a mostly open mind.
The romance is lovely: In spite of a less than promising first encounter, the attraction grows step by believable step, and all the implications and insecurities of falling in love are depicted with a marvelous eye for detail. The final conflict was especially well done, as it does not depend on a Big Misunderstanding, but on the difficulty of suddenly having to act as one half of a couple, when one has been used to act independently – a situation that many new couples experience, and one that crops up comparatively rarely in romances.
Now to what I didn’t like about the novel: Middleton, in my eyes, is just too wholesome and perfect a place. Yes, it is mentioned that not all citizens are as generous, open-minded and, yes, urbane as Lucy and her extended family and friends, but with the exception of a snide remark or two coming from an aunt, that’s all we get. We are told, not shown about unpleasantness in Middleton. In the same vein, I refuse to believe that Seattle only consists of condos, women who spend hours in beauty salons and shallow entrepreneurs. This black-and-white brushing was not really integral to the plot and got annoying very quickly.
More subtly, what I also felt was wrong was the utter joylessness of Adrian’s life after his mother left their home. His life in Seattle remains shadowy in the extreme; we hear of a close friend from grad school and a grandmother in Nova Scotia with whom he appears to have a loving relationship, but again we are told of this, we next to never see him interacting with them whereas there are pages of interaction between Lucy and her circle. This makes Adrian appear – stunted, diminished, for lack of a better word. He is not a complete block of ice before he meets Lucy, only a man who has permitted too little joy in his life – why not show him like that? Again, more shades of gray and less black and white would have given the novel more depth.
In spite of these caveats, on the whole I enjoyed Someone Like Her and can recommend it as a pleasant and moving read. I have two other Janice Kay Johnson novels on my TBR shelf, and am looking to read more by such a talented author. I just hope there will be less black and white and more shades of gray found in them.