Maybe This Time is a romantic comedy with ghosts and kids. It’s based around Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, and it’s as if Crusie had looked at James’s original and said “Okay, so what would happen if you instead of sexual and psychological ambiguity you had real ghosts and real sex?” She turns it inside out. It works surprisingly well, much better than Crusie’s other ventures into the paranormal. It’s definitely a romance novel, in which there are two people of opposite genders who are clearly meant to be together and who end up together, but along the way there’s a haunted house, some kids, a pile of ghosts, and a very funny bit with a medium and a TV journalist and a psychic debunker. If you like character stories, this is a story with great characters.
I generally enjoy Crusie, but my favourite books of hers are ones that have something going on other than the romance. “Oh, we are so destined to be together” is okay as an ingredient, but not so much as a plot. So my favourite book of hers is Faking It, which has a whole complicated family of art forgers who tangle with a con artist going straight. Well, mostly straight. And there’s the gay cross-dressing ex-husband, and the woman with two names, and the double-crostic grandmother who wants drinks with umbrellas in. That’s the one I’d recommend anyone new to Crusie start with, because it has all her strengths, snappy dialogue, genuine humour, great characters, and something going on.
Maybe This Time isn’t quite that good, but it’s close, and that’s high praise. It starts with Andie (short for Andromeda) walking into her ex-husband’s office to return ten years of alimony checks because she’s getting married again. There’s clearly still chemistry between them. He hires her as a governess for some cousins he’s inherited, and she accepts not just because he offers her enough money to start her new life debt free but because he needs her—and he’s never needed her. The first chapter is online and this is a case where reading it is a very good idea, because if you like it you will like the rest of the book.
Crusie has written two other books that edge on genre, Dogs and Goddesses (with Anne Stuart and Lani Diane Rich) and Wild Ride (with Bob Meyer). I didn’t much like either of them, because they both failed on the thing so many mainstream writers fail on, over-explaining and insufficiently integrating the fantasy elements. Wild Ride has a particularly egregious example of this, though I’m fairly sure it’s a Meyer bit, where somebody refuses to believe the evidence of his own eyes—talk about idiot plot. I was therefore afraid that this would be a problem here with the ghosts, but I was pleased to see that Crusie managed them very well. The ghosts are real, there are consistent rules for how they work, the rules are explained and integrated fairly smoothly, and the “is this real or am I crazy?” is done smoothly and lightly. A fantasy reader will not roll their eyes. I also liked the way the ghost possession thing echoed the actual romance. There are twists, and they are good twists.
So we have a story of a kickass governess, brave intelligent children with agency (Crusie’s always good with writing kids), an old housekeeper, ghosts, one of them especially interesting, and assorted other characters who are much more three dimensional than you’d expect, not to mention funny. It takes place in 1992—probably to avoid cell phones and the internet, which can ruin a story like this. There is good baking. It’s light stuff, but sometimes light stuff is just what I want—you can always rely on Crusie for bounce and wit.
It’s also worth noting that Crusie has a great blog where she talks very interestingly about writing, romance as a genre, her life, and her books.
Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published two poetry collections and nine novels, most recently Among Others, and if you liked this post you will like it. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.