Laura Rider's Masterpiece, Jane Hamilton, Grand Central Publishing, 2009, 214 pp
I have always liked Jane Hamilton's writing. Her characters are like actual people but also unique. She has a slightly skewed outlook on humanity and at the same time views most people as somewhat off the beaten path of life. She gets beneath the social persona and lets us in on what really goes on.
Laura Rider is a forty-something successful business woman who, with her husband Charlie, has created Prairie Wind Farm, a beautiful gardening and landscaping center. The local people of small town Hartley, WI, come there for plants and advice on their yards and flowers.
Laura is also a secret novel reader, has a dream of becoming a writer and is an avid fan of Jenna Faroli who hosts her own show about books and authors on Milwaukee Public Radio. Jenna has recently moved to Hartley with her husband, who is a judge.
Laura stopped having sex with Charlie because he was so good that he wore her out after twelve years of marriage. Due to a difficult first pregnancy and birth resulting in a hysterectomy, Jenna and her husband have not had sex for over a decade. So when Laura finally meets Jenna at a garden club gathering, and then Charlie meets Jenna by chance on the road later that day, Laura goes into the mode that has always brought her success. She starts managing people and situations.
She literally creates an affair between Charlie and Jenna, so that while studying her how-to books on writing a romance novel, she can also watch a romance in progress. In a nod to modern times, much of the affair is conducted by email between Charlie and Jenna, except that Laura reads all the email exchanges and even helps Charlie compose his.
Most of the reviews and blurbs make much about how funny this book is. Amusing, I guess; sexy for sure; comical in the way that certain romance movies from the 50s were, but not funny. Jane Hamilton has written a spoof on wannabe writers who have never spent a day being literary. Weirdly, I had recently finished How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely (watch for the review, coming soon), which was truly funny. I think we are supposed to not like Laura Rider, but perversely, I did.
(This book is available in hardcover by special order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)