Talk of the Town
Talk of the Town is a very uneven read. At times it’s hip and funny, and at times it really misses the target. This is equally true of the humor, the writing style, and the characters, all of which work some of the time.
Kelly Atwood decided to marry Raymond because he seemed like a nice, steady guy. Three hours after the wedding she discovered he was a nice, steady, drug-dealing guy with a lot of cocaine and a suitcase full of cash. Kelly knocks him out during a scuffle, grabs half their traveler’s checks and the suitcase of clothes she was planning to take on her honeymoon, then takes off in Raymond’s car. She eventually ditches the car and takes a Greyhound with no particular destination in mind. Then she meets Myrtle, a hairdresser returning home from a convention, and ends up telling Myrtle most of her story. Myrtle is from a tiny town called Paradise, Washington, and she convinces Kelly to come home with her.
Almost immediately, Kelly can see that Paradise is like, well, Paradise. It’s a beautiful 1950s sitcom come to life. Everyone in town loves her immediately. She gets a job in a clothing store (which fits in well with her former occupation in LA’s garment district), takes the spare room at Myrtle’s place, and meets all the locals, who are always popping over with something to eat. She also meets the town’s most eligible bachelor, Sam Grayson.
Sam’s rolling in money and owns the town’s law firm with his father. Sam really wants to settle down with the right girl, and though he’s attracted to Kelly he’s pretty sure she can’t be the one. Not only does she have funky hair and a big tattoo, but she’s also still technically married, and it’s up to him to get her a divorce. Sam knows she is in Paradise in the first place because she’s running from her past, and he doubts that she will stick around long enough to make a commitment before she runs again.
It doesn’t really seem possible that two people could fall in love so fast, but Sam and Kelly can’t help thinking that maybe this is the real thing. They are aided and abetted by most of the people in Paradise, who bend over backwards to help the young lovers. When events transpire that make Kelly’s situation even more complicated, the burgeoning relationship is tested. Can it really be true love, or it is just a fool’s paradise?
Romance could really use a few more heroines like Kelly. She’s modern and edgy, at least compared to most of her counterparts. She has funky, spiky hair (which she changes several times during the course of the book), a rose tattoo running the length of her leg, and a pierced navel. This is fairly mainstream stuff nowadays, but so uncommon in the romance world that it really sticks out. I could actually picture Kelly because I know other women like her. Now it has to be admitted that once you get past her looks there isn’t much depth there; she’s definitely more style than substance. Still, she’s different enough to be interesting.
Unfortunately, modern, edgy Kelly gets placed in Stereotype Town, USA. Not only was Paradise unbelievable; but it was uninteresting, too. Small towns are a dime a dozen in romance, so common that one thinks a member of an alien race who happened to read a few of romance novels would likely think all of us lived in them. In this case one would expect a “fish out of water” type conflict where the heroine had trouble fitting in with the locals, but they are too busy making her casseroles and cookies to notice that she’s different, so there never really is an urban girl/small town conflict. She also seems to find funky clothes and shoes at cute mom-and-pop stores, when the reality is she’d probably have to shop online or at Wal-Mart. I have to admit that I am starting to fantasize about a contemporary romance that ends with the heroine saying, “Honey, let’s ditch this podunk town and go somewhere where they have decent movie theaters and bookstores.”
The writing itself is uneven as well. Sometimes sentences flow very naturally, with a quirky humor that suits the off-beat heroine. But just as often the humor (and sexual tension) seems very forced. Now and then the odd detail pulled me right out of the story. I wondered, for example, why tiny Paradise needed a law building six stories high, and why the heroine told the hero she was a size ten when she was 5’8″ and 110 pounds. When he originally guessed her size at a 6, she told him “real women aren’t size 6,” a statement I found both offensive and odd, considering she’s probably smaller than a 6 herself.
Talk of the Town is Suzanne MacPherson’s sophomore effort, and while overall I found it to be an uneven read, I think there’s also a lot of potential there. With some polishing, the humor could be funnier and her edgy, stylish heroine could get a little more believable. I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way for this one (unless you love and adore small-town romances), but if she continues to hone her craft, MacPherson’s future books might be worth a look.