The Life of Reilly
Writing a romantic comedy is a very tricky business, requiring a light touch and discretion to keep the comedy from becoming slapstick or worse yet – unfunny. Unfortunately, Civil-Brown forgot half way through The Life of Reilly that she was making a soufflé, not mashing potatoes.
Lynn Reilly left the quantum physics lab at Princeton after her fiancé, a tenured professor, stole two years of her work and published it as his own. Feeling betrayed by someone she thought loved her and grieving for her Aunt Delphine, Lynn takes a teaching job on Treasure Island. Lynn is licking her wounds and not interested in a new love affair or even becoming a part of the community. Enter the spirit/angel Aunt Delphine to push her into a relationship with her next-door neighbor Jack Marks, the local minister.
Jack is also licking wounds inflicted from leaving a high-profile, wealthy church, where he was told what to preach and what programs he could institute. Jack wants to be a real pastor to his flock, but found himself ushered out of his church, losing his fiancée along with his loss of status.
Jack wonders about Lynn’s sanity when he finds her talking to the wall and claiming she sees the spirit of her Aunt Delphine. Delphine is an over-the-top spirit whose peeking into the bedroom antics of Jack and Lynn seemed quite prurient for an angel. It takes a leap of faith for Jack to enter into a love affair with Lynn, even as he wonders if she is nuts.
Jack and Lynn are kindred spirits, once they get beyond her obvious preoccupation with quantum physics and boring explanations for everything in the world as well as Jack’s lack of interest in the scientific “why” of the universe. Jack prefers to take on faith the things that Lynn tries to explain, but they discover they are coming at the same conclusions from opposite positions.
Jack and Lynn are forced together by Aunt Delphine with the help of Buster the alligator and Pita the smart-talking parrot. Buster and Pita are the deus ex machine of the book: their behavior is totally unbelievable and the supposed humor involving them becomes so heavy-handed that it lost its charm completely.
This is an old-fashioned love story in many ways; there is really not much plot except Jack and Lynn becoming more involved with each other. The only major plot point is Lynn’s house collapsing, but that is quickly dealt with and mainly served to get Lynn into Jack’s bed.
The Life of Reilly disappointed me because it started out with such charm. But half way through the story, Civil-Brown’s touch became too heavy. Pita the parrot was fun until he started spouting existential – and boring, and unreal – philosophy. This was also the main problem with Lynn’s character. Obviously the author researched quantum physics, but she seems to want to be darn sure we know it! Lynn goes on and on with the science’s boring minutia; it was all so dull it stopped the narrative flow dead in its tracks each time. I was also deeply offended by the angel/spirit Aunt Dauphine referring to God as “Herself.” Though I know this would not bother others as much as it did me, it also pulled me out of the story.
This is one of those hard-to-grade books; the first half would have gotten a B- and the second half a D, so I compromised with a C-. I’ve enjoyed Sue Civil-Brown in the past, but I am afraid that with this one she has jumped the shark for me.