All A Woman Wants

Almost Perfect

Blue Clouds

Garden of Dreams

Impossible Dreams

This Magic Moment

McCloud's Woman

Merely Married

Much Ado About Magic

Must Be Magic

Nobody's Angel

The Trouble With Magic


Small Town Girl by Patricia Rice
(Ballantine, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-343-48260-3
Small Town Girl upholds small towns, the good-hearted people who live there and the old-fashioned values they stand for. Whether that's enough to create an engaging and unforgettable story is another matter all together.

Flynn "Flint" Clinton has given up both his successful career as a musician-songwriter in Nashville and the hell-raising life that went with it. He has bought the Stardust Café, located in the small North Carolina town where he lived as a child, and plans on squeezing a decent living from it. He also hopes to find a kind, homely and family-oriented woman to be his wife so he can convince his parents, who have been taking care of his two motherless sons, that he is a good father. Joella Sanderson, a fearless and energetic blonde who works at the café, doesn't fit the bill, and she gets in the way of his plans.

Jo aspires to a musical career and has the voice and the song-writing skills to make it possible. But with a father who abandoned her to pursue his singing and a lover who did likewise, she doesn't think highly of music men - including Flint. Mo< That is not all that gets between Joe and Flint. First, they don't agree how the café should be run. Then, he realizes she is the lyricist for an album he co-wrote. If the truth comes out, they may soon find themselves on opposite sides of a lawsuit. In the meantime, they have to confront a few environmental disasters. Finally, he believes she is talented enough to make it on the big city stage and doesn't want to stand in her way, even if this means that there's no long-term future for them.

Although they believe they don't stand a chance together, Flint and Jo are instantly attracted to each other. To their credit, neither complains about everything that keeps them apart. On the contrary, they are quick to take stock of their situation and to decide to enjoy what they can. Jo, in particular, is upbeat and positive even at the most dire moment. While such a cheerful attitude is nice to see, in the long run it deflates the romantic tension.

None of the above-mentioned problems are given any serious weight, making it hard to credit any conflict between Jo and Flint. He never has a chance where redecorating the café is concerned because she holds the whole town in her palms. Even his sons take to her almost immediately. (As a matter of fact, I never did understand what was keeping him from them in the first place. His parents have no legal claims, and yet almost-forty Flint trembles whenever they cross his threshold.)

Most surprisingly, Flint not only tells Jo she has a strong legal case to claim the royalties from his album, he also helps her find a good lawyer. These gestures highlight his essentially honesty, but they also water down the plot significantly. Nor does inner conflict replace the external one: neither Flint nor Joe develops much. Pretty soon, the ups-and-downs of their relationship began to feel too much like filler. I just didn’t see what was keeping them apart. Which is perhaps why I almost chucked the book across the room when the legal issues are wrapped up quickly and in flagrant contrast with everything the novel has been saying about the Nashville scene.

The main love story is interrupted occasionally with different Subplots. Fortunately, none of these revolve around a predictable panoply of quirky small town characters. Instead, Jo's sister faces up to her two-timing husband. While I admire the way she refuses to behave like the wronged little woman, I'm not so sure I understand what her story is doing here and how it contributes to the novel's thematic unity. I expected more from a veteran writer like Rice (and I won't even go into the annoying tendency to head-hop).

Small Town Girl may appeal to readers who like heart-warming descriptions of small southern towns and the down-to-earth characters who people them. I'll reserve stronger praise for more bona fide conflict, character development and coherence.

--Mary Benn

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