Tilting at Windmills
by Joseph Pittman
(Pocket, $21.95, PG) ISBN 0-7434-0737-7
To paraphrase a famous line, “Why can’t a man be more like a woman?” Well, at least when it comes to writing romance novels. I’ve yet to find a male author who can create two memorable characters, make me care about them, and bring them to a happily-ever-after as effectively as a female author. Joseph Pittman does nothing to make me change my mind on this issue. His debut novel, Tilting at Windmills, is predictable and pedestrian. And yet, if Nicholas Sparks and James Michael Pratt are any indication, it will probably be a best-seller.

Our narrator, Brian Duncan, is an up-and-coming ad executive in the Big Apple who has been temporarily sidelined by a nasty case of hepatitis. Upon his return to work, he finds out that his girlfriend has been sleeping with his boss, and that he’s been passed over for a big promotion. Instead of confronting the duplicitous pair, Brian quits his job and takes off aimlessly, driving the back roads of upstate New York until he can figure out what to do with his life.

Near the small town of Linden Corners, Brian finds an unusual landmark. A full-size, operational windmill turns in the breeze. When he stops to admire the windmill, Brian meets six-year-old Janey Sullivan, and her mother, Annie, the windmill’s caretaker. Although Brian had planned to just pass through Linden Corners, he is gradually drawn in by the charm of small-town life and taken with Annie’s beauty. But Annie, a recent widow, isn’t quite ready to open her heart yet. Then a figure from Brian’s old life appears and makes Brian an offer he shouldn’t refuse. So will he stay with Annie in Linden Corners, where people care about each other, or go back to New York, where people only care about money and status? Duh!

There isn’t a lot of subtlety to Tilting at Windmills. Pittman creates an obvious dichotomy between bad women and good ones. Bad women, such as Brian’s ex-girlfriend, focus on their careers. Good women, such as Annie, focus on their children and their man (perhaps with a cute part-time job at the antique store and a nice hobby such as painting). Similarly, the New York City life-in-the-fast-lane is bad, Linden Corners with its small-town family values is good. Where did Pittman grow up, Mayberry? Walton’s Mountain?

Even such an obvious story could be enjoyable if the writing were stellar. But Pittman’s technique is prosaic - not painfully bad, like James Michael Pratt, but not memorable either. Plus his characters all speak in the same style, so a line of dialogue from narrator Brian sounds just like a line of dialogue from Annie - there’s nothing to distinguish them.

An unnecessarily downbeat ending closes the book on an unremarkable reading experience. The author bio notes that Tilting at Windmills “has already been sold in several foreign countries.” How do you say “not recommended” in French or Japanese?

--Susan Scribner

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