Molly Harper’s Snow Falling On Bluegrass didn’t bode well for Miss Bates at page one: first-person narration in her romance reading is a no-no. Reading further, the no-nos amplified: there was the distinct whiff of chick-lit-hood (an unromantic genre often lumped with romance). There’s only one other designation that sends Miss Bates’ eyes rolling and lip curling than chick lit and that’s “women’s fiction.” The no-no’s piled up: one ruefully self-deprecating heroine down on her confidence? Check. Two love interests? Check. One marriage-obsessed, self-esteem-killing mother? Check. Cutesy secondary characters? Check. One worthless ex? Check. One true BFF, with deliveries of chocolate and cocktail-sharing commiseration? Check. Thus is the story of heroine, Kelsey Wade, her caricatured ex, Darrell; her office crush, Dr. (Ph.d, not medical) Charles Bennett; and, one snowed- and iced-in staff retreat with the members of the Kentucky Commission on Tourism at isolated, winter-wonderland Lockwood Lodge. Enter one handsome, smouldering park ranger/night clerk … and you have Harper’s third novel in her Bluegrass series in a nutshell.
Evidence Miss Bates’ derogatory remarks above, one would think she’d have DNF-ed this puppy early into it. What kept her reading? It was funny; chick-lit clichéd as characterization and plot were, Harper sure can turn a phrase into a hoot of reader-laughter. Like snorts. Like mocaccino-spewing guffaws. Harper kept her plot fairly simple, letting the sheepish voice of her narrator, the likeable, heart-of-gold, but confidence-lacking Kelsey carry the scene. Kelsey Wade and BF, Sadie Hutchins, run the Kentucky Commission on Tourism with the help of sundry eccentric characters, including Sadie’s secret boyfriend, Josh, and Kelsey’s love interest, statistician Dr. Charles Bennett.
When the novel opens, Kelsey is packing her pot-bellied-stove-weight “overnight” bag to go on staff retreat. Darrell, her no-good, shiftless ex-boyfriend recently broke up with her and left her significant debts after signing off on several credit cards in her name. She hopes the retreat will bring her closer to Charlie Bennett, with whom she’s been in love for ages … despite Darrell. Kelsey suffers from a lack of confidence, stayed with Darrell because she thought she didn’t deserve better. What really burns is that he left her for “Loud-Sex Shelley,” their neighbour, whose amorous adventures reached, um, significant decibel levels. Like most chick-lit heroines, Kelsey possesses both the eternal bounce-back and self-censuring of Bridget Jones. She’s in love with Charlie or, as she says, “Curse his sexy brain.” That sets Snow Falling‘s Miss B’s experience: a crude and stereotypical phrase like “Loud-Sex Shelley” and Harper lost her; something fresh and witty like Charlie’s “sexy brain” and Harper won her over. Or Miss B’s other favourite, Kelsey naming Josh’s plan to propose to Sadie “Operation Gollum” because she helped him pick the ring that’s presently burning up his pocket.
The wit was fresh and funny in places, while characterization and plot were derivative. Frankly, Miss Bates was glad she read the novel just for the scene with the crazed opossum, reminiscent of the vicious squirrel scene in Elf. Arriving in Lockwood Lodge in the midst of the storm “of the century,” as CNN’s “Breaking News” would have it (that’s MissB, not Harper). The snow soon followed by an ice storm … causing impassible roads, including the road out of Lockwood Lodge and a power failure. The enforced togetherness and need for survival with wood stoves, cold showers, and the eating of granola bars lead to all manner of funny shenanigans with the Lodge’s sole KCT denizens. The thing is, the novel was funny, but not terribly romantic, or all that focussed on a central couple. But it kept Miss Bates amused.
When Miss Bates hit the 75% mark on the e-reader, out of the blue (grass!), Harper’s Snow Falling went from funny to angsty … well, maybe not angsty, but definitely sombre-like. Suddenly, Charlie and Kelsey (while the delectable Luke bowed out graciously and somewhat abruptly) are talking earnestly about each others’ families and pondering a future. Suddenly, there are romantic trysts. Suddenly, Kelsey understands what she’s been doing by way of self-sabotage. The answers are derivative. There’s a Big Mis, some sketchy decisions on Kelsey’s part and the whole thing veers off like a snowmobile on ice.
Miss Bates appreciated the chuckles, though she renews her vows to stay away from chicklit, or in this case, chick-lit-lite-then-dark. In the end, Molly Harper’s Snow Falling On Bluegrass was of “tolerable comfort,” Mansfield Park.
Molly Harper’s Snow Falling On Bluegrass, published by the e-only arm of Simon and Schuster, has been available at your favourite vendors since September 22nd.
Miss Bates received an e-galley from Simon and Schuster, via Netgalley.