Crossed Wires

Yes, the cover is pink. Yes, the v in the word love is in the shape of a heart. No, I would never pick up this book in a bookstore. But I’d seen several bloggers say good things  about Crossed Wires (one of those things being that the cover doesn’t suit it), so when author Rosy Thornton offered me a copy, I couldn’t say no. I had a feeling it might be just the thing for the end of the semester, when my brain is slightly fried. And I was right.

Crossed Wires is a light romance that isn’t quite chick lit. It has a lot of what I want in chick lit and none of what annoys me. It’s easy to read and has a straightforward plot that you pretty much know is going to end well. It has characters who would obviously be good for each other if they could just find a way to get together. There’s just enough dramatic tension to keep you reading and wondering what’s going to happen. It’s a lovely comfort read. There are perhaps not as many laughs as I’d expect when reading chick lit, but there are plenty of smiles—and frankly, I’d rather the characters keep their dignity than become slapsticky messes just to elicit a laugh.

Thornton manages to entertain while avoiding the familiar, obnoxious tropes of so much chick lit. The leading characters are not overly neurotic, although they do have problems and worries. When they go into crisis mode, they have a good reason to. The main characters, Mina and Peter, are depicted as equals—not in social status but certainly in desire for a partner.  And they get roughly the same amount of “page time,” which keeps this from being a book about the needy woman finding her prince (or “earning” her prince by finding herself or some such nonsense). Peter and Mina’s friends and family members feel like authentic people with inner lives of their own. I liked them.

So what’s the story? Well, it begins with Peter, a Cambridge geography professor, calling his insurance company to file a claim for a car accident in which he hit the stump of a tree while swerving to avoid the neighbors’ cat. Mina takes the call. She appreciates his self-deprecating sense of humor, even if his jokes aren’t very good. He appreciates her reassuring tone, so much so that when he gets into another accident not long after, he asks for her when filing his claim. Before long, they’re exchanging calls regularly—a ritual that gives them each a brief respite from the stresses of their daily lives that comprise most of the book. They commiserate about being single parents and share what’s going on, never talking about what’s happening between them and where these conversations might lead. There are other threads involving Peter and Mina’s friends and family that explore the connections we make and the ones we sever, whether we choose to travel as ones or twos or threes or in a pack. And it’s all very well done.

I do want to make one point that is not actually a complaint about this book but about chick lit/contemporary romantic fiction in general. I kind of wished as I was reading that Peter and Mina weren’t parents—or rather I wish someone out there would write a romance like this about singles who aren’t parents. You see, so much chick lit seems to make fun of the single women it purportedly celebrates. They’re neurotic, filled with self-loathing, and have problems that are either all of their own doing or that are just petty problems that aren’t worth worrying about. Litlove sounded off about some of this a while back, and I whole-heartedly agree with her. Thornton avoids some of this by making Peter and Mina parents. It’s easy to take their worries seriously when they’re worrying about their children. It gives them and their concerns heft that you don’t find in a lot of chick lit. But must our problems involve children in order to be real?

This bothers me for a couple of reasons. Obviously, I want to see women I can relate to in literature. As it happens, I can to some extent relate to women—and men—that I encounter who are married, parents, and from other times and places, but there are times when I long to find what a friend once called a “companion on the page”—someone whose place in life is similar to my own. But also, and more seriously, I don’t like the message that gets sent when practically every single childless female in contemporary literature is depicted as a comic figure who doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously (or else as a cold, heartless career woman, but that’s a rant for another day). It sends the message that we aren’t quite grown up, that we need to straighten ourselves out, that we need rescuing. That’s not a good message for us to hear, and it’s not a good message for others to hear about us. Because it’s a lie, and it’s time we called it that.

Note, however, this rant has little to do with Thornton’s book, which is delightful! See other reviews at Tales from the Reading Room, Vulpes LibrisUnruly Reader, She Reads and Reads, Rhapsody in Books, The Biblio BlogazineBookstack, As Usual I Need More Bookshelves, and The Zen Leaf.

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14 Responses to Crossed Wires

  1. Dorothy W. says:

    I really enjoyed the Thornton book I read, Hearts and Minds. She does a great job telling a good, enjoyable story that is also smart and well-written.

  2. Steph says:

    Well, I definitely wish I had picked this up instead of the mess that was Jennifer Johnson… And I am with you 100% about not really “getting” why it is that chick lit so poorly portrays healthy, strong, charismatic women (regardless of relationship) since as a woman, I’m clearly the target market and I don’t want to read about pathetic, spinless, toxic shells of women. I think the notion that in order for us to find a character relatable they have to be flawed has been taken way too far to the extreme. I think you can write a book featuring a woman who faces real struggles and have her be interesting and arresting, without having her be complete basketcase.

    • Teresa says:

      Steph: Yeah, I don’t get why the women in books marketed to women are so often impossible to like. Maybe there are people who like feeling superior to the people they read about?

  3. Eva says:

    First, I enjoyed Thorton’s first novel after she sent it to me, and I’ve been wanting to read this one!

    Second, I LOVED your last couple of paragraphs. Obviously, I’m still young so I don’t know if things will change, but right now I’m really happy being single and childless. And I think in chick lit, such contentedness with being ‘alone’ (although not really, lol) doesn’t even exist!

    • Teresa says:

      Eva: It’s funny–I’m more content with being single now than I was 10 years ago. It took a while for me to see the up-side of the situation :-) I actually wouldn’t mind a lack of contentedness in literary singletons if they were at least allowed to be have their acts together and be women that I’d enjoy hanging out with. It’s the single=immature falsehood that grates.

  4. Amanda says:

    I dislike chick lit, and I didn’t feel this was chick lit in any degree. It was just a romance. And on the other side, I’m a married woman with children, so to me it felt really good to read about parents living lives apart from their children. So many authors portray parents as just existing for their spouse or children, so it was nice to read something different from that.

    • Teresa says:

      Amanda: I guess it all depends on how you define chick lit. With that ghastly cover, the publisher certainly seemed to perceive this as chick lit, even if, as you say, it didn’t read like it. And I have no problem at all reading about women with children and can totally see why a parent would like Thornton’s approach–I was just wishing for such a smart modern romance about women like me as well :-)

  5. litlove says:

    I loved this book and am a big fan of Rosy’s work in general. Have you read her first novel, ‘More Than Love Letters’? Only its main protagonists meet over a row about local politics (he is a politician) and it’s wonderful to find romantic characters who are actually doing things and thinking about community and society issues as well as love. She’s a real breath of fresh air.

    • Teresa says:

      litlove: Yes! A romance with characters who think about other things. That’s exactly what I want and exactly what this was. I haven’t read More Than Love Letters but I want to. I poked around online for more about her books and saw that it was an epistolary novel inspired by North and South. I love epistolary novels and just finished North and South, so it sounds like a must-read.

  6. rebeccareid says:

    Ok, this sounds like a situation where the cover is HORRIBLE for marketing the book. Sounds like an interesting book. And good points about the parents/single thing. One thing I hated when I was single was the superficiality: it’s so hard to get to know people when everyone is seeming all superficial and it really irked me. I love your point about single people having issues to deal with too, of course!

    • Teresa says:

      Rebecca: I haven’t found my single friends to be all that superficial–at least no more or less than my married friends. But I rarely see depth among single childless people in contemporary literature. It’s one of the things I love about old books–you get Margaret Hales and Harriet Vanes and Jane Eyres and Lizzie Bennets–women who are strong and smart and complete without men. Seems ironic that I have better luck finding such women in the classics.

  7. Jenny says:

    Sorry to be late to the party, but I was just thinking that Glory, from Home, is a good example of a single woman in recent fiction who is strong and smart and has concerns other than men. (Well, the men in her family, but that’s not exactly the same…)

    • Teresa says:

      Jenny, Glory is a great example! It’s true that one of her problems does have to do with her love life, but it’s taken seriously while not being treated as the defining issue of her life.

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