You were right. All the people who told me after the “Hint of Tuna” adventure that I should give the Konigsburg series another try, you were right. It was worth another try, and I’m glad I did. This book didn’t knock my socks off, but I enjoyed reading it.
“Venus in Blue Jeans” was a source of much Kindle ire for me, as the file was somehow locked for “another user” – except I was the one who bought it, so WTF? – and in order to read it, I had to get on the phone with customer support. But so many people told me to give the series another chance, and since I’d liked the setting and the four brother heroes from the Hint of Tuna story, I figured it was worth the call. It’s not like Kindle customer support takes very long.
This is the first book in the series. Cal Toleffson is the town veterinarian, and of course, as a big tall hot single guy, there are many single women bringing their animals in to his clinic. Docia Kent is the local bookstore owner in the small town that doesn’t easily warm up to new people (unless they are tall, handsome vets who buy into a local clinic and thereby have the longstanding and well-liked town vet backing him up socially) and she’s already run down the wrong side of Margaret Hastings, the local busybody powerhouse whose organizational dominance of high school have run forward into the town’s business council. Margaret has done some good things for the town, but in a lot of ways her power is based on the fact that no one wants to challenge her.
The downside to this book, and to the other books in the series that I’ve tried (3 out of 4), is that if there is a female antagonist in the story, whichever one it is, she is absolutely batshit, bunny-boiling, nut job crazy, with absolutely no redeeming motivation or possibility of mental parole back into not-so-goddam-insane-land. The narration spends enough time in Margaret ‘s head to know that (a) she hates Docia (b) she has no really sound reasons for hating Docia but she does anyway (c) she’s totally fucking insane (d) you should not leave her alone with matches and (e) she was way too much power and not nearly enough people standing up to her to tell her to knock that shit off. Ah, small towns, big crazy pants.The irony here is that Margaret’s store is all about selling angels. HA.
So Margaret’s got her knickers in an origami twist because Docia is Different and New and Very Hot, and is slowly becoming more popular that Margaret in some key areas of the town’s business council. Margaret is a grown woman with a giant crazy angry petulant spoiled brain, and as a result, she’s a psycho with no discernible motivation. She’s a caricature of a real person, not so much a real person in and of herself, and as a result, I knew she’d get to about 80% of her intended damage before she was stopped, and by the end she’d be totally humiliated or put in a place of shame or fear, or maybe destroyed. Either way, she was so freaking crazy, I had no empathy for her. And it’s the villains where I catch myself having empathy that are scary. This woman was just nutty.
Benjamin has great descriptions, like this one of Docia’s father:
A man with silver sideburns rose from a back table. He was wearing a suit whose retail price could probably have fed a large contingent of suffering orphans for a couple of weeks with enough left over to buy them all iPods.
There are also absent and mostly-absent negative relationships between Docia and Cal and their respective families. So much of that is from Docia or Cal’s point of view, their animosity seems out of balance with the reality – or the stories they tell about their family challenges.
Docia and Cal’s relationship itself is rather spiffy. It doesn’t do anything startling or awful in its story arc, but the two of them like each other, and have to figure out what to do with their attraction when each has baggage. Cal’s baggage isn’t as specific as Docia’s, though: Docia has a history with men who have only professed to adoring her because of who she’s related to, and what she has access to. Docia is determined to make it in Konigsburg on her own, and to be liked for who she is.
What I really, really enjoyed about Docia and Cal is that they are self conscious. Docia is a tall woman with a very noticeable figure. Cal is, like all the Toleffsons, big. Big n’ huge. There’s one scene where there’s a sparkly garland of love scene cliche hanging over it, because Cal is a Very Big Boy indeed, but even with the sparkly cliche, I felt for him, and for Docia. They’re always going to stick out in a crowd, especially since Docia is flamboyant and dresses in a way that raises a few eyebrows – including stuffy Margaret’s.
I think this book is a blend of contemporary and romantic suspense. It’s like one of those red wines that’s 60% cabernet and 40% merlot, with the merlot being the suspense elements. Complicating the suspense aspects is the fact that despite some really close calls, from her cat being shot to a really creepy guy hanging around her store, Docia isn’t sure she is the focus of anything strange, and there’s little thought to her own protection, even after the creepy stuff escalates. She gets very close to tall, curvy and dumb as a post a couple of times – and it hurts the otherwise ample strength of her character.
The conflicts between Docia and Cal are smaller than the forces acting against them personally, but the hurt they can cause each other, and the ways in which they are motivated by their insecurities seem true and consistent – and require some talking out to really resolve. I liked reading about Docia and Cal, I liked their unique insecurities and the ways in which they grow up a little during the course of the story. I can’t say I’m going to give the Hint of Tuna another chance, but the other books in the series are worth a look, especially since the setting and the surrounding characters play a fun supporting role. Just watch out for the bunny boilers.