The Pregnant Ms. Potter

Staying Single

Suddenly Single

The Trials of Angela

The Trouble With Mary

True Love

No Strings Attached
by Millie Criswell
(HQN, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-77064-2
Samantha and Jack have been best friends since grade school. Grown up, they share an apartment in New York, where he works as a real estate agent and she tries to make it as a novelist. Jack does the handy work while Sam takes care of the cooking, cleaning and laundry (sounds an awful lot like marriage). When she's down, he cheers her up; when they need to celebrate, he takes her out (still sounds an awful lot like marriage). They don't sleep together, though, and both have been going through a series of short-term relationships (still sounds an awful lot like some marriages).

But at thirty-one, Sam is beginning to worry about her biological clock and decides she absolutely must have a baby. So despite no substantial employment and serious warnings from her friends about the difficulties of single parenting, she sinks her savings into fertility treatment only to discover she is unlikely to ever conceive.

Then, one night, Jack and Sam are stranded together in a hotel room with a bottle of whiskey. They sleep together and, surprise, surprise, everything changes. Try as they might, they can't go back to the relationship they had before and especially not when Sam learns she is, you guessed it, pregnant. Because Jack has shown no interest in her since The Night, she decides to have the baby on her own. Oh and yes, if you really want to know, she quickly explains away the earlier diagnosis about her low chances at conception.

In the meantime, after going out with other women, Jack discovers that he really loves Sam and that, baby or no baby, they do belong together, their earlier sounds-an-awful-lot-like marriage the case in point. Sam is wary and asserts her independence, despite strong opposition by her somewhat traditional family. Her reluctance to immediately believe Jack has made a one-hundred-eighty degree turn about commitment is one of the few things which actually reflects her age and her supposed intelligence.

Sam accumulates rejection letter after rejection letter for the same manuscript. (Are there really that many publishers? Surely someone with her experience would know better than to go the slush-pile route?) But because of her new responsibilities, she now looks for a job that is better paying than manning a coffee shop and writing the occasional freelance article. Soon she finds something in publishing. (Hmm. I've always heard that freelance copy-editors and proofreaders for New York publishing house are worked more and paid less than New York waitresses. In any case, there would be no benefits, health or otherwise - something a single mother is sure to need.)

There are a few other subplots involving Sam and Jack's largish group of friends and family, but nothing that is any more plausible or appealing than their own relationship. It's a shame really, because the story does have a lot of potential, and Criswell does know a thing or two about writing novels. But with such a ditsy heroine and such an unrealistic portrait of life in New York City and in publishing, I was relieved when I could cut all strings attached to this novel.

--Mary Benn

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