Gwynne Forster's Breaking The Ties That Bind, her latest women's fiction novel.
Kendra Richards is in her early-30s, working a dead-end job as a coat check girl in a swanky restaurant, trying to save enough money to get back to Howard University and finish her degree. However just as she starts to get her head above water, and squirrel away a little money in the bank, her useless mother turns up looking for a handout. Ginny is a narcissistic barracuda with worse morals than an alley cat. Kendra has finally reached her limit, and very early on in the book begins to sever ties with her.
Enter into the picture Sam Hughes, a professor at George Washington University. He was a regular customer at the restaurant where Kendra worked, and she always admired him from afar, but it's not until she gets a job at a local radio station that they meet in person. Sparks, immediately, fly. But Sam has been burned before, and Kendra is just now getting her life together. Adding in Ginny's continued shenanigans, and do these two have any hope of building a solid, drama-free, life together?
One thing I think librarians lose sight of sometimes is that there is a market, and a reader, for just about everything in the adult fiction universe. And trust me, there's a market for this book. It has a lot of the earmarks that have made other books, and authors, quite successful over the years. Here you have a young woman, Kendra, from a humble background, pulling herself up by her boot-straps, and making something of her life. Standing in her way is her mother, Ginny, who keeps coming around to create problems, even after Kendra stops enabling her. Readers like it (heck, I like it!) when the downtrodden character is able to break-free from the baggage holding them back and "win" in the end.
However, while Forster is a good storyteller, that's actually the problem with this tale. There's too much "telling." We never really get to dig deep inside the characters. I felt like I was only getting a surface look at them. As much as I did sympathize with Kendra's predicament, I never truly bled for her. I never ached for her. I never felt that urge to cheer when she succeeded in something. I was also hindered by some of the dialogue which, in some instances, sounded stilted and forced. Like the characters were reciting a passage instead of speaking naturally.
While not, technically, marketed as a romance, the arrival of Sam on the scene does provide one. This never registered above "OK" for me - mostly because the attraction is very immediate, and has an almost "love at first sight" kind of vibe to it. It was something I could roll with here, until towards the end when I wanted to smack Sam so hard that he'd swallow his teeth. On one hand, you do have Ginny mucking up the works, but on the other, you have Kendra who is so polar-opposite from her mama that Sam should have caught a clue.
So where does that leave us? Stuck in the middle. There's a decent story here, and I turned the pages easily. However, I gotta be honest, a big reason I kept flipping those pages was to keep reading The Ginny Train Wreck. I actually looked forward to the moments when she appeared on page. The other characters? Yeah, not so much. They never seemed entirely natural to me, and there was a hint of preachiness to some of them that grated. So I'm left with villainous Ginny, who I found oddly hypnotic, and the appeal of the theme at large - of breaking free, letting go, and finding your own self. It was one of those pick and choose kind of reads....
Final Grade = C-