Let me begin by saying that writing a novel is a terrific achievement, and one that I have yet to make. My hat is off to anyone who can complete a novel.
That said, here is my honest opinion of Donna Fasano’s The Merry-Go-Round, a romantic comedy which I finished reading this morning.
Characters: Greg, a sexy, but ne’er-do-well husband/ex-husband; Lew, a grumpy 70-year-old hypochondriac dad; Norma, a wise, yet sprightly 61-year-old office manager/girlfriend with an earthy sense of humor; and Scott, a tall blue-eyed businessman/boyfriend wannabe who kisses great — these are the principal forces at work on capable, efficient Lauren Flynn, attorney-at-law, the protagonist of The Merry-Go-Round.
They all provide plenty of ammo for the conflict in Lauren, between her good-heartedness and healthy sex drive on one side, and her bossiness and repressed anger on the other. Lauren, in her late 30s, tries heroically to master both of these rearing, plunging horses, but to little (though humorous) effect.
Plot: After Lauren’s husband Greg wipes out her $60,000 savings and pension fund trying unsuccessfully to save his hardware store, she divorces him. In the settlement she gets the title to a rural property with a barn housing an old merry-go-round. Finding that the merry-go-round is worth $$$ if restored, she accepts an offer from her now ex-husband, who is a carpenter, to get it in shape for sale. This makes for some awkwardness, since there are still lots of unresolved feelings of all kinds on both sides. Meanwhile, Lauren also finds herself attracted to a handsome client, while getting plenty of advice, solicited and otherwise, from her father, Lew, and her friend/employee Norma.
Setting: The story takes place in a rather generic, and I believe fictional town called Sterling. Could be anywhere. The important scenes take place in the barn, on and around the merry-go-round. Also in Lauren’s office, her home, and a bedroom.
What I thought could’ve been done better: This is kind of a pet peeve with me ~ but I felt the protagonist needed some description. Other than the book cover, and one reference to blond hair late in the book, there was little clue as to what Lauren looks like. Her actions and her dialogue are both snappy and give a terrific portrait of her personality. But what the heck does she look like? I know she’s attractive from the way Greg and Scott react to her, but I would like to know a little more.
Donna certainly didn’t skimp on description for her other characters. Greg, for instance:
His skin was tanned to a deep golden olive, his black-as-night hair slicked back from his morning shower, his even blacker eyes staring directly at her.
So how about a little description of our heroine as she looks in the mirror at her short blonde hair, the nose she thinks is just a shade too straight, or whatever? Lauren is a wonderful character and deserves a little descrip in my humble.
I also thought, as the story progressed and we learned more about Greg’s side of things, that he seemed too saintly. A few more flaws would’ve been good for Greg. Even if they’re just traits that annoy Lauren, like, say, drinking milk or OJ out of the carton while standing in front of the fridge with the door open. Or maybe even more in line with Greg’s personality — bringing stray animals home.
Donna includes a quote, from comedian Rita Rudner to that effect in the epilogue ~
I love being married. It’s so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life.
It seems that all the things that annoyed Lauren could be explained away by her being too impatient and not understanding. Donna created a very likeable person in Lauren, though — I didn’t want her to be 100 percent in the wrong. Things seldom are 100 percent one way or the other.
Small criticism. Didn’t have much impact on how much I enjoyed the story, though.
I also wondered where Lauren’s girlfriends were. Norma’s a great character, but Lauren needs someone closer to her own age to really confide in — and who isn’t an employee.
What I thought was good: Donna begins every chapter with a terrific quote. Chapter 1, for instance:
You don’t know a woman till you’ve met her in court. — Norman Mailer
Chapter 2 has a gem, too — Life is tough, but it’s tougher when you’re stupid — John Wayne
Donna pens plenty of zingers of her own, and right from the start with Lauren ruminating on the court hearing to get Greg to sign the divorce papers:
If everything went according to plan, she would walk out of this building a free woman. She’d sleep a lot better and breathe a lot easier minus the hundred and eighty pounds of man meat she’d been lugging around for far too long.
“the hundred and eighty pounds of man meat…” I almost choked when I read that, and am laughing again as I write.
The central metaphor of the merry-go-round for the carnival ride that is Lauren’s life is an awesome device which Donna handles well. There’s even some interesting info about merry-go-rounds. For instance, did you know that the horses are more valuable if they’re hollow, than if they’re carved from a solid block of wood? I would’ve thought it was the other way ’round. I love finding these arcane bits of info in stories.
Although the book is a romantic comedy, divorce is no joke. Donna has done her homework and gives us a good courtroom view of some of the proceedings. We also get a humorous look at some of the cases Lauren is called on to defend — a case of toilet paper theft and a case concerning a giant inflatable penis… well, you probably better read that one for yourself.
Donna doesn’t shy away from the sexy and randy… but she renders it with class and restraint, and in some cases humor.
The Merry-Go-Round is a character-driven story. Donna’s characters are mostly all real, quirky and entertaining. Grumpy elderly Dad, vivacious older lady, charming carpenter, imposing businessman — the fact is, as I read, I realized I know or have known someone very like each of them.
And a capable, efficient and beautiful blond attorney, slightly bossy, in her late thirties, desperately trying to keep it all under control? There’s one in my trail running club. I kid you not.
Overall: So who writes a perfect book? Donna has done a marvelous job unfolding a colorful, busy tapestry of crazy contemporary life. And yet, despite its fast pace, the hormones and the quips, at its core, Donna’s story is one with tremendous heart, one that illustrates in charming fashion the foremost of William Faulkner’s eternal verities ~ love.
Good job Donna!