|Looking for larger than life heroes and heroines to take you away from the realities of modern life? You won’t find them in the pages of Pamela Morsi’s latest contemporary novel. Her characters could be your next door neighbors, which makes it easy to identify with and root for them. Unfortunately, a dreaded Big Misunderstanding between husband and wife torpedoes a promising story.
Despite their last name, Tom and Erica Bentley lead anything but a luxurious life. They support themselves modestly on the money Tom earns from his classic car care shop, and now that Erica has gone back to work, they are able to save a little bit for retirement and their six year old son Quint’s college fund. When an elderly woman asks Tom to fix up and sell her 1956 Buick Roadmaster, Tom falls in love at first sight, but he would never think of jeopardizing his marriage by buying it himself. In fact, he’s probably safer not even mentioning the car to Erica at all.
Despite Tom’s good intentions (or maybe because of them), the Buick ends up causing a great deal of trouble. Thanks to Tom’s adulterous best friend, Erica’s gossipy co-workers, and that annoying habit of referring to cars as “she,” Erica gradually comes to believe that Tom is having an affair with a woman named Clara. Her little sister advises her to trust her husband, but Erica is ready to take drastic action to confront the shameless hussy who is claiming all of Tom’s time and attention.
I really enjoyed the first half of this novel. Tom is one of the most swoon-worthy heroes I’ve encountered in recent years. Despite a terrible childhood that included a drug-addicted mother and a series of foster homes, Tom is determined to be a good husband and father, even without any role models, and he absolutely cherishes Erica and the life they have made together. He admits that he understands cars better than women, but he never stops trying. In one unforgettable scene he comes home after a long day of work, sees that Erica is busy taking care of Quint, and looks for a chore to do to make her happy. On his own. Without anyone nagging him to do it first. Sigh – what a guy!
I also like the way Morsi devotes some time to Erica’s job in hospital medical records. It may not be glamorous, but neither are most of our careers. Morsi shows how important it is to Erica to return to work (she even enjoys the bus commute), and to be recognized for her accomplishments.
So there is no earthly reason why Erica should devolve into crazy heroine territory, a la Three’s Company or I Love Lucy. She starts getting suspicious of Tom, but instead of addressing the problem with him directly she first gets all weepy and then moves on to sneaky. The book’s back cover indicates that Clara the car comes between the happy couple, but in reality Erica does it all by herself. Because this is a Pamela Morsi novel, everyone ends up happily ever after, but by the book’s conclusion I had lost all respect for Erica. Lady, you have a guy who sees a pile of dirty laundry and takes the initiative to wash it. What more could you ask for in a husband?