Feb 18 2011 11:22am

Ghosts and second chances: Jennifer Crusie’s Maybe This Time

Maybe This Time by Jennifer CrusieMaybe 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.

Alida Saxon
1. alida
I feel the same about "Faking it" (and romance novels. Something has to happen besides DESTINY/sex). It was luck that I happened to read it first. It was in a hardcover discount bin when I found it, I was desperate for something to read, and found myself pleasantly surprised. I've read a few more of her books and they haven't measured up. I may just have to try this one.
Sylvia Sotomayor
2. terjemar
I liked Faking It very much. And I also liked Welcome to Temptation with Davy's sisters, maybe better. Of the Crusie/Mayer books my favorite is Agnes and the Hitman, because I adore Cranky Agnes. And Bet Me is again not only a romance but also a story of finding/making a family.
Mary Aileen Buss
3. maryaileen
Agnes and the Hitman is the only Crusie/Meyer collaboration that really gels. And Agnes is a great character.
Bruce A.
4. Bruce A.
And if you get a chance to see Crusie speak in person, take it. She's incredibly funny. (If she and Connie Willis and Esther Freisner were ever in the same room togther, an entire city would be vaporized in a jocular explosion.)
Jo Walton
5. bluejo
BruceA: She's funny in her books and on her blog, so I'm not at all surprised she's funny in person, but it's nice to have it confirmed.
Stephanie Leary
6. sleary
Faking It is my favorite, too. I love it for its layers. On the surface, it's about Tilda searching for her early paintings so no one finds out about them, but then she decides to reclaim them instead. Underneath, though, it's about being dismissed as a genre writer by the literary establishment. Tilda's father tells her that her own work -- light, fluffy, fun paintings -- is pointless, a waste of her talent, even though it sells very well. He keeps encouraging her to imitate the masters, even though those paintings never sell at all.
7. janetl
I adore Crusie's books. I snatched this one up the day it was published, and agree that she did a good job with the ghosts.
I read two of her collaborations with Bob Meyer, and don't plan to read another. The pile of bodies, and references to "kill zone" just don't work with comedy for me. Clearly, I got as far as reading a second one because her virtues (like the character of Alice) overcame the elements I didn't like.
Bruce A.
8. dancing crow
It always makes my brain buzz when what I think of as separate parts of my brain overlap. It is wonderful, if odd, to read of Crusie here! Like you, I read Faking It first, and enjoyed it the most. I have liked all her others, if not as much, and recommend her often.
Ruthanna Emrys
9. R.Emrys
I've heard good things about Crusie, but... I just read that first chapter. Do you mean to tell me she ends up with the guy who bribes her to put off her second marriage? I don't think I want to know either of these people better.
Bruce A.
10. Sienamystic
I love Crusie, and have been itching to finally read this, so I'm glad to see it get good mentions. I love Faking It as well, although I'm not sure it's my favorite (every once in a while my profession as museum employee makes me itchy about art forging - I suppose if the Goodnight family were that great, I'd just have to hire them instead of being fooled by them). I'm glad she's not collaborating with Bob Meyer still - I really couldn't take the way their two styles meshed (or rather, didn't.)
Rf P
12. readforpleasure
I too love Faking It. Also Welcome to Temptation and Agnes and the Hitman. Those favorites are so strong that they made me a permanent fan, whether or not her other books hit the spot for me.

For me, Maybe This Time is solid Crusie, interesting and entertaining through much of the book. Mordant elements seem to work for her.

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