Simple Riches by Mary Campisi
(Zebra, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-7281-3
***
I have long thought that if, say three centuries from now, historians uncover a treasure trove of evidence about our times and this evidence is a huge pile of romance novels (perhaps my to-be-read mountain), they will conclude that the vast majority of Americans lived in small towns. They will also conclude, should this be the only documentation about our times, that people who lived in these towns were uniformly generous and caring and those folks who were so unlucky as to live elsewhere universally found happiness and meaning by moving to these halcyon locations. Such is the myth of contemporary romance novels.

Mary Campisiís Simple Riches is a perfect example of this myth. In her afterward, the author notes that she based her fictional town of Restalline, Pennsylvania, on her memories of the town where she grew up. (Perhaps a particularly astute historian would note that she no longer lives there.) Simple Riches is one long paean to the joys of small town life.

Alexandra Chamberlain is the vice president of her uncleís real estate development firm. WEC Management builds luxury resorts and Alexís job is to find perfect locations, scout out the locality, and provide the firmís lawyer, her ex-husband, with the information which will allow the company to buy up the property at the best possible price. An MBA from Wharton, Alex is very good at her job. She has identified Restalline as the next promising location for a WEC resort and heads off to the town to scope it out. As usual, she doesnít tell anyone her real purpose, but rather tells everyone that she is working on a documentary about small town life.

Nick Androvich is the local physician; he also owns one of the two chief employers in the town, a logging business. Nick had become a doctor because his father had died young and had not had good medical care. He had always planned to return to Restalline when he finished his education. The tragic death of his wife in a fire shortly after the birth of their son made it even more important that they return home where Justin can be near his grandparents.

It didnít take me very long to figure out where this story was going. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I have to admit that the predictability of the plot detracted from my enjoyment of the book.

Campisi does many things well in Simple Riches. She does a good job of explaining the motivations of her characters. Alex was orphaned at a young age when her parents drowned. She was raised by her uncle and aunt who made every effort to insure that she not adopt the free and easy ways of her parents. She had every advantage but never felt loved. Hence, her response to the warmth of the townspeople and her yearning for the kind of family life that seems to come so naturally to them is completely comprehensible.

Nick has avoided commitment in the eight years since his wife Caroline died. They had been high school sweethearts but Caroline had been unhappy away from home and clearly less than stable. He blames himself for not being able to save her.

Campisi also creates a delightful cast of secondary characters. The folks of Restalline take Alex into their hearts and soon conclude that she is just the woman for Dr. Nick. Their machinations to bring the two together add a gentle humor to the tale. There is also a pleasant secondary romance.

Pleasant is a good description of Simple Riches. Predictable is another. If you share the nostalgia for small town life that permeates so much romantic fiction, this book may satisfy you.

--Jean Mason


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