|You know that feeling you get when you’re talking with someone that won’t quite meet your eye? You keep shifting around, growing uncomfortable, and when the conversation is done, no matter how enjoyable it was you’re glad that it’s over? That same off-kilter feeling is engendered by You Had Me at Goodbye by Jane Blackwood.
The book begins sensibly enough, with the familiar dilemma of two strangers accidentally promised the same set of rooms at the same time, in this case a beach house in Martha’s Vineyard. The strangers are the hero, Lawrence Kendall, an author with writer’s block who desperately needs a summer alone to work on his next book, and Kit Taylor, a woman who needs to be alone to lick her wounds after an ugly breakup and the loss of her business.
These main characters have cockeyed personalities. Sometimes their quirks are charming, as in the instance when they meet and realize that an error had been made. They are both annoyed and are stubbornly refusing to leave, facing one another down with their arms crossed, when Lawrence bursts into laughter at Kit’s attempt to look tough, and his from-the-gut laughter is so engaging that Kit has to hide a smile of her own. The book is filled with scenes like this one and would have been outstanding, except that there are also many scenes where the characters don’t communicate well at all, with each other or the reader.
Kit in particular is hard to understand. She’ll say something truly depressing about her lot in life – then grin. Or someone will insult her viciously and she’ll laugh. The impression one gets from Kit alternates between the feeling that she is a really good sport, or that she has major self-esteem issues. Lawrence (Larry to Kit) is also hard to read. He’s either a completely insensitive jerk, or a guy who sometimes inadvertently puts his foot in his mouth and uses charm to defuse any resulting hostility.
Larry and Kit agree to share the house for the summer, and Kit is somehow thrust into the role of housekeeper for a trio or Larry’s friends from England. Kit is insulted and inconvenienced by them many times before she finally escapes by agreeing to manage the bed and breakfast next door while the owner is in the hospital. Kit and Larry become friends, then lovers as the summer progresses.
The main points of the story, Larry’s becoming more human and approachable, and Kit’s empowerment, are very likable and make an excellent read. Kit’s aunt and the owner of the bed and breakfast are endearing characters with a nice little secondary romance that adds a touching dimension to the book. The descriptions of Martha’s Vineyard, its homes and the people, are interesting and accurate, making a wonderful setting.
Even with the sometimes odd behavior of its main characters, You Had Me at Goodbye could have been a four or even five heart book, but it devolves into an angst-as-conflict story with the characters taking turns hurting each other and hiding their feelings. Just when you think they finally have things worked out and the wrap-up will be satisfying, the author adds yet another conflict into the equation. The end drags on forever, which costs the book a lot of its charm.