The House on Olive Street
I am not a fan of Women’s Fiction. If a book remotely seems like Women’s Fiction, it is more than enough to send me away, and to be honest, when I accepted the assignment of reviewing this book, it was with more than a little bit of dread. Much to my shock, I was very pleasantly surprised.
The book opens rather ominously with the death of fifty-year-old Gabby, a writer whose life is closely intertwined with that of four other women, all of them successful writers, and all of them with dark little secrets begging to be revealed. Their grim task, as outlined in a letter Gabby leaves behind for close friend Eleanor, is for Elly to go through Gabby’s papers, personal documents, unpublished manuscripts, etc., and deal with it all. As Elly enlists the help of the other three women and they settle down to fulfill their late friend’s final request, they begin sharing parts of their lives that have remained hidden through all their years of friendship.
The four women are wonderfully human, non-cardboard characters who deal with the little – and sometimes big – struggles of life and find succor and support in one another.
We have Barbara Ann, the midlist romance writer who seems to be the one on top of it all – happy family, book after book hitting the shelves – and who is, in fact, about to explode from frustration. While Barbara Ann simmers, Sable Tennet is discovering life without make-up. This polished woman (think Danielle Steel’s career and Sable the Wrestler’s looks) finds that she can live in sweats and knit shorts, walk around barefoot and not lose face in front of her friends. Meanwhile, mystery writer Beth finds her writing to be the only refuge from her abusive pig of a husband, until the strength of the other women begins to slowly seep through her. Last but not least, intellectual Elly, the academic writer who hates children, is tired and afraid of continuing her life as she has lived it for years – keeping everyone at a distance.
As summer progresses, the women begin facing their inner demons; Beth, the youngest and shyest of the four women, makes a decision but keeps the reader guessing as to whether she will go back on her word. For Sable, it’s facing the ghosts, coming to terms with events from nearly twenty years ago and setting free the girl she once was. While Barbara Ann makes a drastic change in her life after she ends up in jail because of her inconsiderate, slovenly family, no one expects dry spinster Elly to change much, and in the end, her story is all the sweeter for it. Gabby’s house gets a little more cramped with the arrival of her mother, Ceola, with eight husbands to her name and a knack for manipulating the four women into catering to her every need. Four healthy women are not enough to contend with Ceola’s softly voiced demands and she ends up staying, and becoming part and parcel of the group.
There is also work to be done, however, and while contracts are drawn and manuscripts resuscitated, a single masterpiece emerges: Gabby’s own love story, told in a book that will be fiction to everyone else, but to the friends, it will provide the final chapter to the story they only knew bits and pieces of.
I liked this book – a lot. While the ending might seem rather tidy considering how real each woman’s set of problems was, it is not totally unrealistic. Each of them has changed for the better, but has not lost what made her unique in the process. While Fiction rather than Romance is still not my “thing,” I will make an exception in the case of author Carr, and will definitely check out her next book