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Crazy For You by Jennifer Crusie
(St. Martin's Press, $24, R) ISBN 0-312-19849-3
*****
As a fellow reviewer once put it, some authors you just don't "hear". Not so with Jennifer Crusie. Her voice is so distinct, she might as well be sitting across the room. And when she's telling a story that's as wonderful as Crazy For You, readers might as well make themselves comfortable they won't be leaving their chair for a while. This may well be the most enjoyable book you'll read this year. I read it three times in one week, which sort of says it all right there.

Quinn McKenzie is tired of her "beige" life. She's got a great job as a high school art teacher, she has an attentive boyfriend but something is missing. Quinn wonders if she's being too demanding of her significant other, Bill Hilliard. He's a bit smug and patronizing, but he's revered as the high school coach.

It was wrong to complain about a man who was unfailingly clean, generous, considerate, protective, understanding, and successful. Really, the dumbass was the perfect man.

But Quinn has her doubts. And when her favorite student shows up in her classroom with a stray dog, Quinn meets her destiny. Destiny is Katie, a dog Crusie gleefully describes as a "rat on stilts." Abandoned, scared, the little dog steals Quinn's heart and sets her life on a new path of independence. Quinn decides to keep the dog. Bill is adamant that the dog must go. When he goes behind Quinn's back and takes Katie to the pound, it's Quinn who decides to go right out of Bill's life and into a new, exhilarating freedom for herself.

She has plenty of opposition. Her best friend, Darla, thinks women should be married and happy, like herself. Well, she's not exactly ecstatic after seventeen years of marriage, but she loves her husband Max, and heck, the excitement can't last forever, can it? Quinn points out that maybe Darla needs to make a tiny change in her own life, something to get Max's attention again. When things go seriously awry, Darla and Quinn end up sharing Quinn's new fixer-upper house along with Quinn's father, who has a crisis of his own on his hands.

And then there's Nick, a mechanic who is also Quinn's ex-brother-in-law and Max's brother. They've been friends for years, but Nick is a love-em-and-leave-em kinda guy, and Quinn is as steady and practical as they come. Or so he thinks, until Quinn chucks practical out the window and realizes she's fallen head over heels for her best friend, and Nick finds he's irresistibly attracted to his old pal Quinn. The sexual tension between them could melt concrete.

And what about Bill? He won't take no for an answer, convinced that Quinn will be back any day. If he can convince her that she needs him. If he can get rid of that damn dog.

Crusie does humorous small-town life like nobody else. There's a full complement of oddball characters here, from the husband-stealing loan officer who Darla refers to as "Bank Barbie" to the wacko high school principal who only wants another championship trophy. Quinn's parents, her sister, her teaching colleagues they're all here, and it's incredible how fleshed-out Crusie can make them in just a few sentences. There are so many small stories interwoven that it's hard to even remember them all, but in the end, they create a gorgeous jigsaw of a contemporary romance. Every piece fits perfectly. Wonderful doesn't begin to describe it.

Readers who prefer milder dialogue should be forewarned that there's a fair amount of profanity. Max and Nick aren't afraid to tell each other exactly what they're thinking. For example, when a confused Max decides to take Bank Barbie to dinner in order to get Darla back, Nick's brotherly response is,

"You are a f***ing moron. Darla's going to rip you in half, and that's if you're lucky, because otherwise, she's going to leave your ass cold, and then where will you be?"

Yep. Sounds like a brother to me. Even Quinn isn't afraid to express her thoughts in plain language. Far from offensive, I found it refreshingly funny. These folks were real. I especially enjoyed Max and Darla, two sweethearts who are crazy about each other and after some heartache, find a way to bring the magic back. As for Nick and Quinn, the concrete doesn't quite melt, but they come damn close.

If you miss out on Crazy For You, well, you're crazy. This is Jennifer Crusie in top form. Surely your keeper shelf has room for one more?

--Cathy Sova


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