Book Review

Maybe This Time by Jennifer Crusie: A Guest Review by Carrie S.


Title: Maybe This Time
Author: Jennifer Crusie
Publication Info: St. Martin's 2010
ISBN: 978-0-312-30378
Genre: Contemporary/Other

Maybe This TimeA few weeks ago, I gave away ARCs of Jennifer Crusie’s Maybe This Time, and asked that, if the winners were so inclined, the lucky ARC-getters would send me their thoughts on the book.

Carrie was the first to send me her review, and I’m including it here – with a bonus at the bottom. See? It’s sometimes worth it to read all them there words.

I am still writing my review – it’s both a good thing and a bad thing that this book has given me so much to think about – but Carrie hits on a lot of the things I’ve been thinking about, too.

Maybe This Time, by Jennifer Crusie, is Crusie’s attempt to “fix” Henry James’ classic tale of horror, The Turn of the Screw.  In The Turn of the Screw, a young, repressed, isolated governess attempts to protect her two charges from the ghosts of their previous governess and manservant.  Crusie keeps the ghosts, but her governess, Andie, is tough, smart, liberated, unflappable, and surrounded by people whether she wants to be or not.  Also, unlike the governess, Andie doesn’t need anybody’s approval and is totally outspoken about everything that happens.  On her website, Crusie describes this as “a ghost story with a romance”, and readers should be aware that the actual romance is very much secondary to the story, although themes of loss, longing, and desire are central.

Maybe This Time opens with so many Crusie tropes that a drinking game is in order.  Take one drink for each favorite accessory, i.e, Fiestaware, amaretto, butterflies; and chug for every returning character (Hi Gabe!  Hi Simon!  Love ya!).  Andie herself has her own unique and wonderful personality, but is clearly a close relation of Min, Mare, and Agnes, of, respectively,  Bet Me, The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes, and Agnes and the Hitman.  All of these touches make the book feel familiar and safe, even a bit derivative – until the ghosts appear and the story turns into something completely unexpected.  

There is no need to be familiar with Turn of the Screw to enjoy Maybe This Time, but it does explain why Crusie uses so many horror cliches to tell her story.  Not a door goes uncreaked in the house which was been imported, brick by haunted brick, from England to rural Ohio.  Some readers may experience this book as a fun lark, since it certainly contains ample touches of humor and hilarious chaos.  Personally, I’m an easy scare.  One good rocking chair rocking by itself sends me diving under the bedcovers.  Also, I have a daughter about the same age as the little girl in the book, who looks and acts very much like the little girl, so the menace hit home at a very visceral way for me.  I can honestly say that as soon as the ghost of Miss J appeared at the foot of the little girl’s bed, I was absolutely terrified until the book ended.  But, my guess is that most readers are a bit (OK, a LOT) more hardened than I am.  Also, I understood why Crusie used the trappings of gothic horror to tell her story, since she was trying to rework a gothic story.  But by using so many cliches (the creepy house, the creepy housekeeper, the creepy – well, everything) the reader is very aware that this is just a story, and not a new one.

The romance aspect of the book involves Andie and her ex-husband, North.  When the book opens, they have been divorced for ten years.  Andie is about to remarry when North asks her to take care of two children who have been left in his care for one month.  This will allow Andie to enter her new marriage debt-free and put some closure on what is clearly an unfinished love affair with North.  Ta-da, situation set for romantic mayhem.  

Andie and North are the old standby, opposites who attract.  They married after knowing each other for only twelve hours (which consist mostly of sex) and they set up house in the attic of North’s family house.  When North had to save the family law firm, he became a secretive workaholic, leaving free-spirited Andie basically trapped in the attic.  Although Andie left the marriage, it’s clear that Andie and North are haunted, pun fully intended, by their memories of each other, a fact which one of the ghosts exploits.  Does the romance work?  Well, aspects of it do.  The fact they still long for each other is made vividly clear, as is the fact that they have great sex.  The problem is that we don’t get a good enough picture of what their happy times were like, other than that they involved sex and dancing, to see why they want to be together.  The relationship doesn’t really build up in the present, either.  I liked to see that they had both grown up and become more honest with each other, but there just wasn’t enough to hang a romance on.  We know they are in love because they say so, and that’s it.  They aren’t a bad couple, they just aren’t developed enough to make me invested in their relationship.  Also, the culmination of the romance wasn’t that important to the plot.  In a really successful romance, while the reader hopes that everything will be fine for everyone, the reader really cares first and foremost about the fate of the main couple.   But in this book, it was nice that Andie and North got together and all, but what I really cared about was whether the kids were safe and the ghost eliminated.

Like every other Crusie book, much of the joy of the story comes from its richly drawn and hilarious characters.  Andie is a joy to spend time with, and I warmed to North as soon as he sent Andie a new oven so she could bake without scorching the cookies.  The moms are fun characters in their own right, but they also serve as parallels for Andie and North.  Andie’s mom wears Iron Maiden T-Shirts, and North’s mom wears impeccable suits, but neither mom has any patience with stupidity, self-destructiveness, or boundaries.  The kids are well-written, although I was sure the little girl is six, until I re-read the book and saw that she is eight.  She sure would make a dead-on six year old, as I should know, since I have one who bears an eerie resemblance to the one in the book, right down to the sparkle fetish and the temper tantrums.  I also enjoyed the medium, Isolde, and the skeptic, Dennis (Jennifer, is that a Whedon shout-out?  Because, if so, good one!).  Sadly, Andie’s fiancee and an evil reporter are one-dimensional and serve only to introduce extra conflict to the book.

In short, Maybe This Time is the classic example of the whole being more than the sum of its parts.  I read this book, flipped back to the beginning, and read it again just for fun.  I loved the humor, the tension, the imagery, the crazy cast of characters, and the themes.  For pure enjoyment, I’d give it an A.  However, the book may disappoint lovers of the paranormal in it’s use of cliche, and it may disappoint romance readers because the romance is secondary to the ghost story.  I loved the book and would read it again and again, but I wish it had gone a little deeper and maybe even a little darker.  Maybe North shouldn’t have replaced the old oven, so that Andie was beset by a house that fought her attempts to domesticate it by burning all the cookies.  Maybe this should have been a story in which the real life lovers have to let go of the memory of their love, just as the ghosts have to let go of the desires and needs they had when they were alive.  But then we wouldn’t have our happy ending, and we might as well read Turn of the Screw instead.  I did re-read it after I read Crusie’s version, and I don’t know which one has more merit as Lasting Literature, but I can tell you that I’d rather read the Crusie story any day!
Jennfer Crusie quote from:

You want a copy? Thinking hardcovers are outside the budget right now? No worries. I have 8 hardbacks and a postage scale in my dining room (which is sign #253 that you might be a blogger). Just leave me a comment here and tell me why you want to try to read this book, and yes, your review would be welcome after you’ve read it, should you be so inclined. Contest ends midnight Sunday 29 August 2010. I’ll pick eight winners, and announce them next week.

Standard disclaimer: no, I am not possessed. No, I am not being compensated for this giveaway. Yes, I do spend a lot of money on postage. Yes, I have my own postage scale and stamp printer, which I love even more than my luggage and my microwave. Yes, I do believe in life after love. No, I do not have a first aid kit handy. Yes, I remember that one time at band camp.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    StephB says:

    I would love to read this book, because I’m a long-time Crusie fan and also a huge fan of ghost stories! Please enter me in the giveaway.

    And I enjoyed the review!

  2. 2
    Shannyn says:

    I would LOVE a copy of this book. I love Crusie and have been reading the evolution of this book on her blog. I’ve read early drafts and revisions and can’t wait to get my hands on a copy.

  3. 3
    Carolyn says:

    I’ve been wanting this book and wondering if I could wait til the price came down. Now I have a different chance. :-)

    Great review, I want the book more than ever!

  4. 4
    Amy P. says:

    Hmmm, although I love JC (more than my kids sometimes) I’m just not into paranormal . . . so I’m glad to hear this book still has some “classic JC” characters and moments!  I love her humor and I can honestly say I have peed my pants reading her books.

    Thanks for giving such a great (and honest) review – can’t wait to read it.

  5. 5
    Beki says:

    Because I love her books.  I have them all and have been in reader mourning over the fact that I can’t afford to run right out and buy this one first thing.  (Due to my own stupidity with math in my checkbook, hee) So, a gifted copy would be beyond stupendous!

  6. 6
    Erin says:

    Would love to read this – thanks for the opportunity!!

  7. 7
    Emma says:

    I deserve (Deserve!  With and exclamation point!) a copy of this book for two very good reasons.

    1:  I recently had to take a Henry James literature class.  Having gone through that torture (ok, it was actually a great class), I feel I am fully prepared to read a retelling of James’ classic ghost story!

    2:  I am a poor, poor college student whose only solace is reading this website and dreaming of the day when I will have enough money to buy books again!  Take pity on me!  Send me free stuff, please of please!

  8. 8
    Linda Henderson says:

    I’ve never read one of her books before and I’ve heard such wonderful things about her that I’d love to read this book.

  9. 9
    Teri C says:

    I have an Arc and it is next up on my to read pile! This review was great. thanx ;)

  10. 10
    zee says:

    Great review.  I’d love to read this book because I love ghost stories and I love Crusie – please count me in!

  11. 11
    SRS says:

    I desperately want to read this book, mostly because I am a huge Crusie fan. I don’t read many contemps, and I tend to be pretty critical of the ones I do read, but Crusie gets me almost every time. I also have a dogeared copy of TTotS ans am curious as to Crusie’s take on the classic gothic novel. If I get a copy, I promise at some point to write a review.

  12. 12
    Christine says:

    I would love to read a copy of this book and would also be delighted to provide a review! I was interested from the first moment you mentioned the book here and would love a good “ghost story”/romance to make up for a recent read with both these elements which was less than stellar.
    Oh and I never win anything so if I did this would truly be a first.
    Thanks for the fun review!

  13. 13
    Lori says:

    I would love a copy because I’m hoping this one will break the not so good streak I’ve been on with Crusie books recently. After loving the first ones that I read I’ve been really so-so on the more recent reads and I’m hoping that a different type of story will have me back to feeling the love.

  14. 14
    Alpha Lyra says:

    Enter me, please! I’d love to read it because I love JC’s books and I’m thrilled she’s writing solo again (I prefer her solo books to the co-written ones). Also, a ghost story? Not my usual fare, but I bet Crusie can sell me on it.

  15. 15
    KimberlyD says:

    Book buying is out of the budget for me, with husband getting laid off. I would love to win because my book buying days are (temporarily, I hope!) over :(

  16. 16
    Mary Stella says:

    I would love to receive a hardcover copy of this book, even though I’ve already pre-ordered it for my Kindle.  I’m all about the Crusie.  I’m also into instant gratification, hence the Kindle, although I’ll also buy it (if I don’t win) in hardcover because a bookcase is not complete with Crusies.

    Remember that I live in the Florida Keys.  Sure, I’m surrounded by water with beautiful scenery.  Yes, we have manatees and most of the rest of the country does not.  However, the rest of the country has book stores.  Bricks and mortar chain bookstores that have numerous books on shelves.  The rest of the country does not have to hope that a particular book one yearns to own might possibly be stocked in K-Mart, the health food store with a book section, the discount book store that focuses more on mysteries and fishing, or Publix supermarket.  The rest of the country doesn’t have to wait until they drive over an hour in one direction to Key West to the lone Border’s Express or two hours in the other direction to Miami to BUY The BOOK!

    Oh, sure, sure, I could order it online, but that would mean total lack of fun drama.

    Picking me would also save you postage, shipping, handling and reduce your carbon footprint since I’m going to see you at Heather’s Conference.

  17. 17
    GSM says:

    I loved JC’s “Bet Me.”  Who didn’t, right?  I’ve enjoyed several of her other books.  I’m looking forward to reading this one and I’m heartened by your good review of it.  Thanks for your generosity in hosting a contest.

  18. 18

    I am a huge Crusie fan and was planning on buying this book anyway, so if I can save a few bucks…

    captcha: service63 – is it significant that 63 is my birth year? Will you be doing me a service, Sarah? =)

  19. 19
    Nicole says:

    Put me in the draw!  Would love to read this book!

  20. 20
    Holly says:

    Ooo-oooo Me!  Me!  Pick me :)

  21. 21
    KellyMaher says:

    A. I adore Crusie (with a few exceptions).
    B. The Turn of the Screw was one of the few assigned books I actually read a majority of (if not in its entirety) in high school. Though I completely forget most of it.
    C. My brain is so fried I can’t come up with a C, so take pity on me?

  22. 22
    Miss_Thing says:

    I would be so happy to win a copy of Jenny’s new book – she’s one of my desert island writers.  I haven’t been blown away by her collaborations and am really looking forward to her latest solo effort.  Plus, oooo, spooky ghost story…

    Also, it will be a nice change from reading my child psychology and web design textbooks. Procrastination ahoy!

  23. 23
    AmberG says:

    I do love a good ghost story. I can’t watch scary movies because i’m easily terrified, and my friends will be more than happy to regale you with the story of the haunted house we went to for halloween, where I screamed before we even went in, and later, at a repairman holding a flashlight. But books allow me to enjoy the story within the safety of my bed, and horror cliches are some of the best kind, so this actually sounds like a book I would very much enjoy.

    Besides, I love Crusie’s characters. I’ve re-read Bet Me a few times because tough women like Min are fun to read.

  24. 24
    Pweggy says:

    I was planning to buy Maybe This Time but budget realities are getting in the way. The used car I purchased yesterday was recalled 2 1/2 hours later.  I needed the car because my 14 month old grandson will be visiting and while I was only slightly concerned about my own safety in my 10 year old 200,000+ mile car I would not risk his sweet little head.  Of course, the old farm house I live in in rural Maine is not one that has, to the best of my knowledge, been actually haunted but the dying lilac trees at the edge of the yard do sometimes groan in a meaningful way so there may be something there.  Then there is the fact, that since I live in rural Maine and am a librarian by profession so the possibility that gruesome ghosts ala our boy Stephen, always lurks.  Perhaps I shouldn’t plan to read a ghost story at home alone late at night but then I am a sucker for Henry James.  So, if my rambling desire to enjoy Crusie’s latest does not capture your fancy I will simply have to go on a library waiting list.

  25. 25
    Amanda Blair says:

    Jennifer Crusie has an essay where she says that romance novels are the best antidote for a graduate degree in literature.  I just started my MA in English literature and oh my goodness, do I need something enjoyable and fun to read.

  26. 26
    Jessica D says:

    Ooo, I would love a copy, because:

    1) I am a complete Crusie virgin, but
    2) I did have to suffer through Turn of the Screw in college, and besides,
    3) my neuron-sized condo is so full of The Boy’s electronics and motorcycle parts, I’m losing serious ground. I need more hardbacks to reclaim some territory.

  27. 27
    JC says:

    Most books are out of my budget right now, so I would love to get my greedy hands on this one.  I’d love to post a review also.

  28. 28
    Triciab says:

    I haven’t read a lot of Crusie, but this sounds like one I would like to try.

  29. 29
    Tina C. says:

    Great review!  I had forgotten that this was a re-working of Turn of the Screw, so I’m even more interested in reading it now.

    I would like to win a copy because:

    1)  I really love to win stuff!
    2)  I love Crusie (well, I couldn’t finish that last one with Mayer, but other than that one…)!
    3)  I actually read most of Turn of the Screw and I saw the creepy movie and I wrote a paper on it!  (The book version, not the creepy movie.)
    4)  I am 54th in line for it from the library and it will be much too long before I can get my hands on it, since I can’t afford to buy one!
    5)  I use a lot of exclamation marks!!!!!

    Seriously, I’d love to win one and you know I’d love to give you a review of it also.

  30. 30
    peggy h says:

    I’ve been reading the excerpts of this in Jenny’s website which have me seriously contemplating my first non-clearance hardback purchase (yes, I’m cheap!)  But it would be awesome to win this!  Please count me in!

    (Great review, Carrie!  Thanks!)

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