A lackluster debut, written in the form of e-mails, attempts drama but simply illustrates through its own flatness the detachment of online relationships.
Forty-something Beth begins a quasi e-mail romance with her next-door neighbor after a chance meeting at the library. Her increasingly revelatory postings, which begin innocently enough, tell of her dulling marriage, the drudgery of driving her daughters to swim practice at five o’clock every morning, and her less-than-exhilarating profession of cataloguing quotes for desk calendars. Not an exciting life for Beth—or for the reader to share in. Then into her still-undiagnosed mid-age crisis comes Thomas, the neighbor in question. At first glance (all Beth really gets), he seems wonderfully breezy, spending much of his time out of town writing travel guides, but not the Morocco-Bali-Peru kind: his latest effort is a walking tour of Laughlin, Nevada. To Beth, however, Thomas seems the epitome of daring adventure, and the assorted sprigs of humor in the story are born from the inflated opinion she has of Thomas (only Beth’s e-mails are available, yet hints of Thomas’s personality can be gleaned from her responses to his). Although he e-mails her rarely, Beth writes constantly, going so far as to take a laptop on her first-ever sans-family vacation, a kind of Outward Bound for middle-aged women. She offers an almost instant replay of the day’s events, which challenge her physically and spiritually, presumably enabling her to find the goddess within. Well-intentioned, and at times quite prescient in the analysis of the holes women dig for themselves—Beth creates a quite obvious caretaker relationship with Thomas—Cook’s debut nonetheless plods. Even the surprise denouement isn’t enough to combat the doldrums Beth experiences and passes on to the reader.
A modest first effort in need of greater depth to ballast the weight of its subject.