Last Chance Saloon

Lucy Sullivan is
Getting Married

Rachel's Holiday


The Other Side of the Story
by Marian Keyes
(William Morrow, $24.95, PG) ISBN 0-06-052051-5
The seventh novel by popular Brit Chick Lit author Marian Keyes isnít as funny as her first American export, Watermelon, or as meaningful as her best novel, Rachelís Holiday, but itís a fun summer read thanks to Keyesí trademark wry humor and astute observations about human behavior . †

Successful events coordinator Gemma Hogan is shocked when her steady, reliable father abruptly leaves her mother for a much younger woman after more than thirty years of marriage. With her mother alternating between panic attacks and catatonia, Gemma abandons her Dublin apartment to watch over her, leaving the house only when work demands it. Gemmaís not sacrificing much of a social life with her caretaking. Three years ago, her alleged friend Lily stole her boyfriend Anton, and Gemma still hasnít recovered from the shock. Gemmaís major emotional outlet these days is an e-mail correspondence with her friend Susan in Seattle. Surprisingly, the e-mails, enlivened by Gemmaís amusing revenge fantasies, wind up catching the eye of a London literary agent Jojo Harvey. †

A former New York cop, Jojoís voluptuous body, razor-sharp mind and aggressive personality have made her one of the most successful agents at her firm, and she hopes to be named partner soon. Complicating her work life, however, is her clandestine affair with managing partner Mark Avery, who is married with two children. Jojo never saw herself as The Other Woman or a home-wrecker, but her attraction to Mark remains too strong to deny. She doesnít use their relationship to get ahead professionally, though; she has a stable of successful authors, including Lily Wright, who has penned the charming and upbeat Mimiís Remedies and is due to deliver a second blockbuster soon. †

Problem is, Lily isnít quite ready with that blockbuster. Mimiís Remedies was a silly little book that she wrote to cheer herself up after a mugging, and the only other manuscript she has ready is a much more serious novel that has already been rejected by numerous publishers. Lily isnít comfortable with the instant celebrity status her debut has generated. In fact, ever since Lily fell in love with Gemma Hoganís boyfriend Anton (well, according to him they were on a break; sorry, that excuse never worked for Ross and Rachel), sheís convinced that bad luck is bound to catch up to her. So even though Anton is adoring and faithful, and they have a delightful toddler daughter named Ema, Lily waits for the other shoe to drop. †

The book titleís clever play on words alludes to the novelís multiple layers. Most obviously, the plot portrays the publishing world from authorís and agentís points of view. Given Keyesí own experience, this part of the novel is probably dead-on accurate. Jojo has to tread carefully through relationships with temperamental authors, cut-throat competitor colleagues and greedy publishers while maintaining her composure at all times. Lily, a former copywriter, is elated by the commercial success of Mimiís Remedies but devastated by harshly critical reviews and petrified that her sophomore effort will fall flat. And Gemma, the accidental author, is surprised that her creative storytelling might be of interest to someone, but strongly motivated by a desire to outsell the woman who wrecked her life. †

And thatís the second aspect of the ďother side of the storyĒ plot; the reader gets to know both the man-stealer and the victim, only to discover that itís difficult to label one totally guilty and the other purely innocent. Lily didnít set out to steal Gemmaís boyfriend, but theyíre together now and she has to decide if sheíll enjoy their relationship or let the guilt take over. Gemma harbors a long-standing grudge, but Anton insists to Lily that he and Gemma were never truly in love, so her pride may be hurting more than her heart. The second Other Woman, Jojo, is madly in love with Mark but reluctant to break up his marriage, even when he decides heís ready to go public with their relationship. †

The three main characters are engaging if not particularly memorable, and at times their stories donít feel compelling enough to justify the novelís 500-plus page length. Jojo, the American in London, is the most notable for her strong personality and self-confidence. Gemma is the most sympathetic of the three, and her revenge fantasies, especially those involving her unfortunate motherís imaginary new boyfriend Helmut (a 35 year old Swiss bodybuilder) are hilarious. Probably the weakest link is Lily, who spends most of the novel in a deep funk despite the presence of a perfect man and a darling daughter. †

Keyes hasnít written a novel Iíve loved since Last Chance Saloon, but as one of the seminal Chick Lit authors, her books are still dependable entertainers. †

--Susan Scribner

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