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: http://www.jennycrusie.com/books/fiction/maybe-this-time/
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.