This is the story of an unbalanced romance. It is the story of a fudge salesman (and maybe a con man — we’re not sure) doggedly pursuing a surgeon, for no reason she (or we, at first) can see. When Ray Russo meets Alice Thrift, she is an isolated intern with no social life:
How had I gotten so appallingly ineffective with actual people? I thought I had a nice way about me — I was particularly adept at delivering good-news bulletins to relatives in the waiting room, but even that drew criticism. Once in a while, a next of kin complained that the frown on my face as I walked into the lounge scared him or her to death. But wasn’t it mere concentration? It was never enough — my excellent knowledge of anatomy, my openings and closings, my long hours. What people want, I swear, is a doctor with the disposition of a Montessori teacher.
Alice — no Montessori teacher she — has a habit of blurting out uncomfortable truths and preferring a night’s sleep or an evening’s study to any socializing that might be going on. Her roommate, Leo Frawley, the world’s most popular pediatric nurse, takes Alice under his wing. This doesn’t mean he wants to change her, he just reaches out to her as a friend, and after a while, their mutual incomprehension wears off in some extremely charming ways.
Ray, a recent widower, continues his heavy courtship of Alice in every imaginable way: eeling his way into dates, insisting on driving her to her grandmother’s funeral (and bringing four pounds of fudge for the reception), macking his way up to her new apartment, fainting in the bath, and requiring medical attention. Alice is bewildered by this plan of attack, and seesaws between being flattered and annoyed. When she makes friends with another intern, the bold and sarcastic Sylvie, she has another perspective — but also more distractions, since Sylvie’s love life is on High Farce Mode. And in the mean time, Leo’s got a new girlfriend — a baby-hungry midwife who doesn’t seem to like Alice at all. Where is the happily ever after going to come from?
This is the second novel I’ve read by Elinor Lipman, and it’s just delightful: light, light, light as a meringue, light as raspberry mousse. There’s no heartbreak here, nothing high-stakes. When someone is acting like a jerk, everyone has enough common sense to see that person acting like a jerk. People are capable of change. The prose is witty and sly and funny on every page, without being manic. This author is just so enjoyable, and well worth the couple of hours it takes to read one of her novels.