Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Book Report: Gothic Screwball Comedy

I'm afraid my dishwasher has finally given up. It hasn't been working ideally for nearly a year. I was planning to replace it when I got my tax refund last year, but then I messed up my shoulder and ended up using the tax refund on medical bills. Then I had plans to buy one when I got my Japanese royalties, but hadn't yet gotten around to it. I'd figured out ways of working around the problems, so it seemed to be okay. Yesterday, though, as I was unloading the dishwasher, I realized I couldn't tell any difference between the "clean" dishes I was taking out and the dirty dishes I had ready to go in. And I know I ran it because I remember having to shut my bedroom door because of the noise. So now in the meantime while I do some research to find out what's available, what I need and what seems to work and then do some comparison shopping (and then probably wait for delivery/installation), it looks like I'll be washing dishes by hand and using the dishwasher as a large dish drainer. Doing dishes by hand isn't so bad if you stay on top of it, and that will force me to keep the kitchen cleaner instead of letting things pile up.

Isn't the life an author glamorous? And no, I don't have live-in servants to do the dishes for me or a personal assistant to go buy a new dishwasher for me.

I haven't done a Book Report in a while, mostly because I've been either re-reading or doing research reading, but I read a fun, relatively new book last weekend that I may as well talk about, Maybe This Time, by Jennifer Crusie. I've known Jenny for a long time, though I wouldn't say we're particularly close. In fact, she may not even remember me without a lot of reminders. But back before she hit it big, she kind of mentored me through something of a career crisis, and then I helped her with a PR thing when she was getting ready to launch her first "big" book, so I tend to think fondly of her. Mainly, she was the person who really jolted me out of the category romance mindset and convinced me that it said good things about me as a writer that Harlequin couldn't manage to press my books into any of their category lines when I was devastated at getting a "we love this book but don't know what to do with it, maybe you should look elsewhere for publication" rejection letter from my editor at Harlequin.

I've pretty much quit reading romance in the last few years because I realized it isn't really my thing (yet another sign that I probably wasn't cut out for category romance), but I saw this book at the library and decided to give it a shot. I'd followed Jenny's discussion about writing it on her blog and thought it sounded like something I'd enjoy, and yeah, it was pretty much right up my alley. What we have here is a screwball comedy gothic -- it's a fun blend of two of my favorite genres. There are all the elements of the classic gothic story: spooky old house in a remote location, young woman sent there as governess for kids with serious issues, creepy housekeeper. But, as this is an update on the gothic genre, the heroine is far more proactive and gets to do more than run around in a floaty white nightgown and scream. But then a screwball comedy invades, with a big cast of wacky characters and lots of doors slamming and shifting alliances.

Our heroine Andie agrees to do a favor for her ex-husband and go to serve as a tutor to his two wards (children of a dead family member), who live in the old family house in a remote area. The relatives who'd cared for them before had died, and the nannies hired since then have all left, but the kids freak out completely if anyone tries to take them out of the house. Andie gets there and realizes that the situation is totally screwed up, but needs to be handled delicately. And she also starts to suspect that there might actually be such a thing as ghosts. Then, at the worst possible time, her playboy ex-brother-in-law shows up with his latest girlfriend, a scandal-hungry TV reporter who claims she's investigating the supposedly haunted house. The reporter has in tow her cameraman (with whom she's sleeping), a parapsychology expert who believes in psychic phenomena but debunks ghost stories, and a brash, outspoken medium. Then Andie's stiff and formal ex-mother-in-law shows up when she learns that the reporter is actually trying to do an expose on the family. To make matters even more fun, along comes her boyfriend, who thinks she's using this situation as an excuse to avoid him, and the ex-husband she's not totally over. And then a major storm hits, stranding and isolating them all there -- with a trio of unhappy ghosts. Hijinks ensue.

You wouldn't think that gothic and screwball comedy would blend well, since gothic is all about atmosphere and comedy shatters the atmosphere, but it seems to work here because the gothic stuff is genuinely creepy and threatening, which makes the comedy even funnier in contrast. I think this book would make for a fun movie. The one part that I didn't really love was the romance, but that comes back to my issues with the romance genre rather than to a problem with this specific book. I actually liked the relationship more than I have those in most romances I've read lately. It's just that "romance" romance isn't very romantic to me.

Anyway, this would be a fun book to read on a stormy night. You'll get a few genuine chills even while laughing yourself silly.

And now I think I need a long, white, floaty nightgown.

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