British novelist McKinlay (The View from Here, 2011) offers a not-quite love affair through letters and emails between a wildly successful American writer and a lonely, well-to-do British woman.
Long-divorced Eve Petworth has lived a reclusive if privileged life (driving a Bentley and never holding a job) in the English countryside. Shy and prone to anxiety attacks, she relinquished much of the control over her daughter Izzy’s upbringing to her overpowering mother, Virginia. With the grown-up Izzy now engaged to marry and Virginia recently deceased, Eve potters about her beautiful house gardening and cooking; her only friend is her housekeeper. Eve seems an unlikely fan of popular American author Jackson Cooper’s macho detective novels, but she appreciates the sensual way he writes about food and sends him a letter to say so. Approaching 50 and recently divorced for the second time, Jack is emotionally shaky and having trouble starting his next novel. Attracted to Eve’s straightforwardness and love of food, he responds to her note, and a correspondence begins. The letters and emails, full of culinary conversation and ruminations on the human condition, offer Eve and Jack both a respite as each faces his or her own separate crisis. Jack, who has a Filipino houseboy for his house in the Hamptons and whose best friend is an actor named Dex, seems a British fantasy of American literary hunkiness—readers are repeatedly assured how well-written his best-sellers are. Nevertheless, Jack, who, while corresponding with Eve, has begun a doomed romance with beautiful ice princess Adrienne, is beset by midlife self-doubt. Meanwhile, Eve faces difficult truths about her relationship with Izzy, who has reconnected with her father, Simon, who turns out not to be an evil ex after all. Early on, before their epistolary intimacy deepens, Jack suggests he and Eve meet for a culinary rendezvous in Paris, a romantic fantasy that may or may not come to fruition.
While mousy Eve and sensitive Marlborough Man Jack never quite grab the reader’s imagination, McKinlay wisely eschews easy romantic clichés.