Best-selling Delinsky (Lake News, 1999, etc.) imagines 21st-century life in the town that inspired Grace Metalious’s notorious novel.
Annie Barnes also comes from Middle River, N.H., even though she now lives in Washington, D.C., and Annie’s nearing the two-million-copy mark for her third novel, though of course that doesn’t match Grace’s sales. When Annie returns home after her mother’s death, everyone in town, including her sisters Phoebe and Sabina, is convinced she’s there to expose all of Middle River’s dirty little secrets. (Readers will have to take it on faith that small-town folks can be as idiotically accusative as Delinsky makes them here.) About 70 percent of Middle River’s income derives from the Northwood paper mill, ruled by awful Aidan Meade. Now 33 and on his third marriage, Aidan once stood up plain-Jane Annie for the high-school prom (he was having an affair with a married woman). No, she’s not out for vengeance; she just wants to know whether her mother’s fatal illness, the symptoms of which are now replicated in Phoebe, is related in any way to mercury waste from the paper mill. The author’s research on mercury poisoning gives this story some stature above that of its agonizingly small-minded characters. (Just in case that’s too high-minded, Delinsky throws in an underaged teenager having sex on a dark road and a police chief addicted to painkillers.) Annie gets a list of people whose sicknesses may stem from mercury poisoning. The townsfolk get more and more upset with her. Soon Grace appears inside Annie’s head, and the pair of writers begin an endless conversation. Meanwhile, Annie starts running in the morning and meets fellow jogger James Meade, Aidan’s handsome, well-spoken brother. She gets her big break when a mysterious correspondent begins telling her secrets via e-mail. Will the truth come out at last?
High-grade romance energized by environmental awareness: not a toxic mix.