It’s actually very difficult to review this book, as I still think about it, and even when writing the review I picked up the book and started reading it again. I’m part YAY and I’m part BOO though I’m not MEH about it either. There are tremendously strong parts to this book, and parts that were so not-strong they broke the shiny smooth edges off the perfect parts, and STILL I pick up the book and start reading it again when I’m near my copy.
This happened right from the start, too, damn seductive book. I read this book after an ARC landed on my doorstep, and I didn’t mean to even open the cover because I was already reading two other books. But while making dinner and packing lunches and doing sixty-four other things, I opened to the first chapter and … SLURRRRRP … I was sucked in and found myself already powering into chapter two. I had no idea where the time went, how I ended up reading in the chaos that is my kitchen at 6pm, or how I was going to resist picking the book back up after just one chapter.
In the start of Maybe This Time, Andie is going to visit her former husband, North (telling names, let Crusie show you them), much to her own dismay and irritation. North surprises her by asking if she’d please go and stay for a time with the two children for whom he is the guardian, both to look in on them and make sure they are well, and to put to rest some pesky rumors that the house they live in is haunted. In exchange, North will pay her, and pay her enough to pay off her debts and marry her new boyfriend with nothing holding her back- not debt, not her pesky former husband, nothing. Onward and into a new life.
Funny how that type of plan always works, right? Not so fast, there, Andie. Andie arrives in southern Ohio, where the house is indeed haunted, the kids are miserable and very very stressed, and stoically trying not to show it, and the housekeeper is a monstrous piece of work who hasn’t shown them affection or a decent meal with actual nutrition in many weeks.
Maybe This Time blends horror and creepyslick fingers on your spine with a reconciliation between Andie and North, and it’s hard for me to look at the romance, which I adored, against the horror and mystery, which was not as strong. I almost want to evaluate this book in two pieces: first, Andie and North, and second, ghosts and the children.
The opening scenes are alluring and the chemistry between North and Andie is amazingly strong – so when they’re separated for the first few chapters and communicate only through phone calls, I was frustrated. I wanted more Andie with North, Andie vs. North, not Andie calling North and North and his money arranging for things to happen magically. There were moments when they were in the same room wherein I held my breath while reading, the dialogue between them was so freaking electric. Even without some context, I wanted them to start talking and work things out and realize how much they’d grown and who they were now, and why their two new selves belonged together. But because they are apart so much through the story, it is a good thing I didn’t hold my breath while waiting for them to literally be together during the novel.
Fortunately, Andie creates meaningful relationships with others in the story, but outside of her interactions with North, they were, on the whole, unsatisfying.
Let me start with the children. The little girl, Alice, is traumatized, as is her brother, Carter. But because she is the focus of some of the haunting attention, her brother is left in the shadows of the plot, and this broke my heart into several directions. His sister’s recovery is paid as much attention by the book’s plot as her character receives from Andie and the others. Her brother literally gets the shaft. In fact, my notes from reading the book are in all caps: WHAT ABOUT CARTER?!?!?! Both of the children suffer equally, but the plot and Andie herself focus so much on the daughter that the little boy is left to suffer alone, and his recovery from all that horrifying what-the-fuckery is slapdash and easy at best.
What really set me off is that other characters TELL Andie she’s not treating Carter equally. Including North’s mother, who was not ever a fan of Andie’s:
“Look, you’re very protective of that little girl.” She nodded toward the sleeping Alice. “But girls are strong. We’re built to withstand anything. Boys are the vulnerable ones. Alice will make it, she’s got Archer steel in her spine. But Carter’s bleeding inside, just the way North was bleeding when you left, and you can’t see it. You don’t look.”
Andie took a breath to say that Carter was fine, and Lydia cut her off.
“I raised two boys. They feel everything and have no way to express it. They die inside, and if you’re a mother, you die, too.”
There’s even a moment where Andie makes a mental note to spend more time with Carter – and she doesn’t really follow through. Really, he’s still marginalized in the end to such a degree that I thought less of Andie, even when I didn’t want to.
That imbalance takes the chill off the horrifying aspects of the story, and left me with a good portion of disappointment weighing against my joy in reading Andie and North’s story. Moreover, I have come to realize that I am not a ghost person when it comes to fiction, particularly when those ghosts can step across mortal boundaries and possess and influence people. Crusie herself describes the book as a “ghost story with a romance,” and it’s true. North and Andie aren’t together for much of the book, and the reader spends so much time learning about North from Andie’s memories, and then about North from the children’s limited and neglectful interactions with him that by the time he shows up, you’re not sure what to think of him at all.
I started off loving this book. I haunted this book, literally, waiting for a spare moment to read another page. But, (spoiler ahoy) as I’ve told a few people who have asked me about it,
I was with Andie right up until the possessions started, and then the spell was broken.
The ghost story, the mystery, and the ending where there’s an entire Vegas buffet of characters in the one house are overwhelming, and even though there are moments of absolute brilliance, there are also moments where you stop and look at the page and say, “Wait, really?”
There’s also the question, which is largely unanswered, of where Andie and North have been for ten years – the absence of their history even two years prior to the story’s beginning is strange, and makes their irascible reunions more tenuous due to the lack of context.
Honestly, I’d love to hear what you thought, as one of the effects of reading this book is that when I discover someone else has read it, I’m hopping on my toes to find out what they thought. I loved parts of it. I was head over heels for parts of it. And I stamped my feet in rage at the same characters (Hi Andie, I’m a-lookin’ at you) in other parts. I rooted for them, and I wanted to hit them with things. On one hand, my frustrations were palpable, but on the other hand, I was invested in the characters enough to take it personally when the story and their actions within it didn’t live up to what I expected of them based on backstory and prior behavior.
The parts that are real, the romance, the emotions, the repair of people and of their feelings and their sense of home and safety, are very, very real. The parts that are fantastical are not so much real, nor do they support the characters sufficiently. I bet I’ll edit this entry four or five times before I make it live, because my feelings of joy are identifiable, but my feelings of dissatisfaction are running into each other incoherently and I can’t pin them down long enough to line them up in and orderly fashion.
Bottom line: Crusie is, as ever, an amazing writer. Anyone who can wind me up with the YAY and the MEH and the BOO is someone whose books I will always read, and I look forward to talking with you about what you thought, too.