Call Waiting by Dianne Blacklock
(St. Martin’s Press, $24.95, PG) ISBN 0-312-30348-3
Midway through Call Waiting, one character tempts the heroine by promising, “I’ve got chocolate - real English Cadbury’s, not that dead awful, waxy Australian stuff.” That pretty much summed up my reaction to this “Aussie Chick” novel by debut author Dianne Blacklock. Actually, it wasn’t that bad, but after reading book jacket comparisons to the works of Marian Keyes and Katie Fforde, I felt like I had eaten a plain Hershey’s Bar instead of the gourmet Godiva I had been expecting.

Call Waiting presents the diverse lives of two best friends who live in Sydney. Ally Tasker is stuck in an unsatisfying teaching position, and in a dead-end relationship with a cheerfully ambitious but emotionally shallow real estate agent. She envies the perfect life of her best friend Meg Lynch, who has a strong career, loving husband and adorable toddler son. Things change rapidly for Ally with the death of her grandfather, her sole living relative. She takes a leave from her job and travels to the country’s Southern Highlands to prepare her childhood home for sale. In the small town of Bowral, she meets Matt Serrano, a handsome carpenter who helps renovate her grandfather’s house. She also gets the opportunity to utilize her artistic skills the way she has always dreamed, designing and painting. But Ally, who was raised in virtual isolation by her strict, distant grandfather, is wary of Matt’s attentions and swears she will never make a permanent home in the Highlands where she spent such a miserable childhood.

Meanwhile Meg is growing restless with her allegedly perfect life. She’s bored and unhappy, but unable to identify any options that might make her feel better. She was once proud of her reputation for being supremely organized and in control, but now she’s frustrated because her husband doesn’t support her sudden desire to be spontaneous and passionate. When a handsome model at her advertising agency starts a flirtation with her, Meg feels attractive and alive for the first time in years. But how far will she take this dangerous new relationship, and what will be the ultimate cost?

Like many Chick Lit novels, Call Waiting presents two women who must overcome their pasts in order to move ahead with their lives. With parents who married too young, Meg was always the caretaker in her family. She’s still a controlling perfectionist, but she goes too far when her usual patterns fail to make her happy. Ally keeps people at a distance because she doesn’t want to risk repeating the heartbreak that she felt when her mother left, her grandmother died and her grandfather became distant and cold. First-time novelist Blacklock does an admirable job at portraying these women and the epiphanies they face before their happy endings. She balances poignancy with gentle humor, although there are no laugh-out-loud moments that you find in some of the best Brit Chick Lit.

Unlike Brit Chick Lit, the novel features very few intriguing Australian dialect phrases to enchant a Language Geek like myself. I’m not sure if Australian English just isn’t as colorful or if the author deliberately wrote for an American audience, but I would have appreciated more local flavor. Sydney could have been New York or Chicago, given the generic way the author describes it. And Ally’s move from Sydney to rural Bowral was uncomfortably reminiscent of those contemporary American romances where the Big City girl comes to her senses and moves to Small Town U.S.A., home of true Family Values.

I don’t know if Australian chocolate really pales compared to Cadbury’s, but its version of Chick Lit so far is inferior to the British novels I’ve encountered.

--Susan Scribner

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