Saturday, August 21, 2010

Robyn Carr writes a novel that could double as a self-help volume.

Robyn Carr has many novels to her name, but this is the first time I have sampled her writing. The novel leaves a lot to be desired in terms of complexity of plot and depth of character. But it tells a simple story well enough.

A Summer in Sonoma

A Summer in Sonoma (416 pages, Mira, $7.99) is Robyn Carr’s latest novel about women living in Northern California. In this case, Cassie, Julie, Marty, and Beth met as cheerleaders in a high school in the Sacramento area. Now approaching thirty, they are all dealing with life and loves in different ways, but their friendship survives and sustains them.

In a sense, the characters seem a bit like a range of personality types that might emerge in a self-help volume. Cassie is overweight and self-deprecating. She works hard as an Emergency Room nurse, but she hasn’t had a decent relationship with a man. Julie has been happily married to Billy since just after high school. They have three wonderful kids. But in spite of Billy’s two jobs—he’s a fireman/paramedic, and he works in carpentry—they cannot really meet their monthly expenses. Marty and Joe are better off, happily married with one child—Joe is a fireman too, and Marty is a hairdresser—but Marty is fed up with Joe’s slovenly habits and the ways in which he seems to be taking her for granted since their marriage. Beth, single like Cassie, is a smart and intelligent OB/GYN doctor. She hasn't problems with money, but she has no time for dating, and she can barely make the lunch meetings that the four women have from time to time.

As the novel opens, Cassie is nearly date-raped in the front seat of an SUV when the noise of her protests and resistance brings a big biker to her aid. He breaks the car window and saves her from the slob who refused to take "no!" for an answer. Walt, the biker, seems to be a nice guy, and Cassie is almost attracted to him. But, of course, he is biker, complete with a pony tail and a naked woman tattoo, and she cannot feel that he would be right for her.

The novel insists on playing out this resistance, rather clumsily, and at the same time concealing the position Walt holds in the Harley Davidson franchise. Rather than working as a simple mechanic, Walt owns the company. This won’t come as a surprise to an attentive reader, but Cassie is shocked, and his “sudden” wealth almost destroys the relationship.

Julie and Billy are beside themselves with the struggle to make ends meet; and when it seems that Julie is pregnant with their fourth child, she just about has a nervous breakdown. This leads them into a huge crisis in which they lose the baby and seem to be getting out of touch with each other. When bankruptcy seems their only option, they happen into the office of a Mormon credit counselor, whose advice is so good that they are living it up—and imagining building the family again—before too many months have passed.

Marty has to figure out whether to leave Joe or to have an affair or whatever. She has tried talking to him, but he just doesn’t listen. For Joe, his home is his castle, and he doesn’t feel that he should have to do anything to court the woman he married years ago. When Marty runs into a high school sweetheart, whom she had for years dated miserably—he was always unfaithful—she is almost tempted to cheat on Joe. This crisis for her nearly destroys the marriage, but again they seem almost uncannily able to find their love again even after it had seemed completely lost.

Beth has the most difficult story. Having suffered breast cancer and a mastectomy in her mid-twenties, she now has a lump in her other breast. This time she decides to go it on her own, and she doesn’t even tell her friends when a second mastectomy is recommended. She finds a very caring doctor, though, some twenty years her senior, who not only deals with her cancer, but also offers her the first romantic attachment she has had in years.

These plots all work out satisfactorily, and along the way, Carr has given advice on relationships, family finances, dating practices, and motorcycle riding in Sonoma County. It could be worse.

Robyn Carr

Get a copy of A Summer in Sonoma at Powell's, Vroman's or Amazon.

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