Promises, Promises by Erica James
Ah, ‘tis an enterprise as unpredictable as the performance of an Antipodean cricket team, the creation of light fiction aimed at a female audience (chick-lit, if you prefer); for every considered, clever Jennifer Weiner output there is a clunker from an off-her-game Maeve Binchy.
Sitting somewhere in the middle, in this instance, is a New Year release from Erica James, Promises, Promises. In keeping with a prolific publishing rate that has seen the British writer produce 15 novels since 1996, it appears a little less than 12 months after the well-received The Queen of New Beginnings.
The timing is optimal – James is nothing if not the ideal summer-holiday companion – and here she sticks to the formula that has served her well since her debut, A Breath of Fresh Air: introduce two or three main characters, each with A Big Problem Somehow Related to Love or its Absence, and watch as this problem is addressed in a sequence of daffy, often humiliating conversations, accidental encounters and outright pratfalls. By the end . . . well, that’s for you to guess.
You should not expect Ms James to have you on tenterhooks – her books are designed not for suspense but for comfort, of the sinking-into-a-mid-winter-bubble-bath-at-the-end-of-a-hard-day variety. Her knack for creating Manichaean, hero/villain dichotomies among her characters turns what would otherwise be a weakness – two-dimensionality – into a virtue, enabling her to set up climactic, life-changing events that allow every member of the cast, whether lead or supporting, to receive his just deserts.
The title refers to the promises made to themselves by the main characters: by the put-upon house-cleaner and wife, Maggie Storm, to stick up for herself when her sloth-like husband demands another beer or his comically vile mother hoves into view; by the decorator Ella Moore, who swears off unwise emotional attachments after a seven-year relationship founders in the face of unconquerable hostility from her widowed boyfriend’s teenage daughter; and by Ethan Edwards, a serial philanderer who is really a nice chap underneath it all and is ripe for rescue and redemption at the hands of the right woman (there is a subtle strain of feminism running through James’ work).
Maggie, Ella and Ethan all bear sufficient resemblance to real people to be plausible, and James adds heat, flavour and amusing absurdity with Brenda, the aforementioned mother-in-law and mistress of Evil Sid, the carnivorous canine who plays an unwitting role in the liberation of Maggie; Francine and Valentina, Ethan’s grasping wife and daughter; and Ella’s former de facto stepchildren, Toby and Alexis.
The gist of Promises, Promises can be gleaned from the cover blurb; the value in reading it lies in its reliable provision of light diversion, much as a tea-and-chocolate break gives respite during an afternoon’s work. Fifteen novels in, Erica James remains on form.
Previously reviewed on Coast.co.nz
Reviewer: Stephanie Jones