Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Spotlight Review: NOT THE MARRYING KIND
NOT THE MARRYING KIND - Hailey North
New York; Los Angeles, California; Arkansas - Present Day
Having escaped from small town life in Arkansas, Harriet P. Smith is now a successful artist living in New York City. Yet, for all her success, or maybe because of it, Harriet still feels like an outsider. Close to the holidays, Harriet and her fifteen-year-old son find themselves trekking to Arkansas, albeit reluctantly, to be with her dead husband’s mother as she recovers from knee surgery. But going back home stirs up a lot of memories for Harriet, namely a secret that she has been keeping -- who her son’s biological father really is.
Jake Porter always lived his life not looking back. This outlook has always helped him, considering that he grew up as a military brat, having to move often and rarely leaving roots behind. There is one place, though, that Jake does look back on -- or one person -- and that is Harriet Smith, an awkward, slightly overweight girl who was the first girl he was intimate with. It was soon after that night with Harriet that Jake’s career military father, the Colonel, yanked him out of yet another school to take him away, never giving Jake the chance to say goodbye to Harriet. When his father wants Jake to meet the woman he wants to marry and to spend the holidays with them, Jake is surprised to learn that the woman lives in Doolittle, the small town where he spent his last year of high school. Jake agrees to visit and wonders if he will run into Harriet while there?
NOT THE MARRYING KIND is about two people who, for all their successes as adults, are carrying a lot of baggage from their childhood. In Jake’s case, he handles it well, but Harriet does not. The story manages to capture the ambivalence a person can feel visiting family over the holidays and all that entails. Harriet, although described as complex, brilliant, and mysterious, comes across as something less than that. I was unsure if Harriet is supposed to be an edgy, flawed character or simply misunderstood by everyone around her, and as a result I found it hard to appreciate Harriet’s point of view. For example, Harriet has not visited her parents for three years, and then she admits that her childhood was not so bad. When readers are finally introduced to Harriet’s parents, we see them more clearly than Harriet does, and as a result, all Harriet’s thoughts about her parents come across as whiny, complaining, and a little selfish.
The relationship between Jake and Harriet hit some wrong notes emotionally. I question the reasonableness that Jake and Harriet, two sophisticated, cosmopolitan characters, have secretly been pining for each other all these years? When the identity of Harriet’s son’s father is revealed, it is anti-climactic. Also, Harriet's and Jake’s attitude and condescending manners when referring to the town of Doolittle and its inhabitants is a turn-off.
Secondary characters like the Colonel, Jake’s father; Martha, Jake’s father’s love interest and her sister, Abbie, or crabbie Abbie, as the townsfolk call her, did entertain and provide some bright spots in this tale. NOT THE MARRYING KIND is a book that introduces a lot, but not all of it successfully.