When Andie Miller goes to see her ex-husband, North Archer, to return ten years of uncashed alimony checks, he asks for one final favor: A distant cousin has died and left him guardian of two orphans who have driven out three nannies already; will she take the job? Bribed with money and a need for closure, Andie says yes, but when she meets the two children she realizes things are much worse than she feared. The children aren’t any run-of-the-mill delinquents, the creepy old house where they live is being run by the worst housekeeper since Mrs. Danvers, and something strange is happening at night. Plus, Andie’s fiance thinks it’s a plan by North to get Andie back, and since Andie’s been dreaming about North since she arrived at the house, she’s not sure he isn’t right. Then her ex-brother-in-law arrives with a duplicitous journalist and a self-doubting parapsychologist, closely followed by an annoyed medium, Andie’s tarot card–reading mother, her avenging ex-mother-in-law, and her jealous fiancé. Just when Andie’s sure things couldn’t get more complicated, North arrives to make her wonder if maybe this time things could be different…. (from jennycrusie.com)
It's nice to know Jennifer Crusie still has it. According to the back of this lovely ARC that I got from LibraryThing and St. Martin's Press, this is the first solo novel Ms. Crusie has written for six years, when she published Bet Me. For those of you who don't know, Bet Me is one of my absolute favorite novels of ever and ever amen. It was the book that introduced me to Crusie and it was love at first sight.
Maybe This Time is a little bit different than Crusie's other solo novels; this is a ghost story. Not just any ghost story but, according to Crusie's website, it's a modernish adaptation of The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. Maybe This Time is set in an English manor (or something similar) that has been relocated to southern Ohio, stones and all. It even has a moat. Andie is a teacher and in a weak moment agrees to relocate for a month from Columbus to get the children ready to attend public school and to rehabilitate this pair of kids who have gone through nannies like Kleenex. Her ex had inherited the children from a distant relation but after a disastrous attempt to send the older boy to a boarding school, hasn't had much contact with them other than to provide them money (he's actually not a jerk, just a lawyer). When Andie gets there, she finds the house and property to be a wreck, the housekeeper to be creepy, and the children strange and antisocial at best. She also soon finds herself questioning her belief that there's no such thing as ghosts and are the conversations she has at night in her bedroom with a young woman who claims to be a younger Andie real or is she dreaming? Why are the children so determined not to leave their house and why do they keep nannies running for the border? Most importantly, why did Andie agree to do this for her ex-husband North?
Andie is a typical Crusie female protagonist - practical yet unconventional with a great sense of humor and a screwy love life. North is also consistent with Crusie's main men - an intelligent man who has a job with some authority, usually a cop or someone who owns their own business, and who is stumped by the woman he has picked to love. Andie and North married within twelve hours of first laying eyes on each other in a bar. They divorced a year later when Andie left him and have spent the last ten years subconsciously pining for each other. We don't get to see any of their marriage, pity that, but it amused me greatly that Andie, after getting a marriage proposal from her current boyfriend, visits North at work to return ten years worth of alimony checks. One a month for ten years, she didn't cash a single one, claiming that it was his way of reminding her of him.
Also present is the supporting cast of oddballs and weirdos. Crusie isn't stingy this time either: there's an obnoxious tv reporter and her cameraman; a medium who curses like a sailor; North's younger brother, Sullivan a.k.a. Southie; two mothers-in-law; an expert on the paranormal who doesn't believe in ghosts; the ghosts; a private detective. No animals though.
The paranormal aspect of Maybe This Time is better handled than the demons were in Wild Ride and the ghosts here make the story better, not worse, even though they brought a measure of malevolence not usually found in Crusie's books. I would have expected them to be there for humor, not malice, but I've never read The Turn of the Screw. The trademark Crusie humor is here, of course, and made me laugh out loud several times. I really enjoyed reading Maybe This Time but I didn't love it like Bet Me. I became worried when I read Wild Ride earlier this year but I'm okay now because Jenny Crusie is back! Upcoming next year is a murder mystery series and here's the description from jennycrusie.com:
Liz Danger Mystery Series
First two novels scheduled for release in summer 2011.
A four book limited romantic mystery series about ghostwriter Liz Danger who goes back to her home town, Birney, Ohio, and finds love and crime. Complicating everything is Vince, the new cop on the local beat, who makes Liz think twice about her aversion to Birney in particular and commitment in general.
A reissue of one of the last books in her booklist that I have not read, Trust Me on This, will be out on October 26, 2010. Maybe This Time comes out on August 31.
Go HERE if you're like me and you want to make Andie's banana bread :)