An emergency room nursing supervisor writes a romance novel, even as her own life spins out of control.
Skartsiaris’ (Surviving Life, 2016, etc.) third book offers a bit of a change-up on the standard romance genre, weaving together two stories that intersect in the chaotic world of the protagonist, Cassie Calabria. Cassie is approaching middle age, with her marriage stagnating. Her older daughter, Ashley, is 15 and an expert in distancing herself from her mother with silence and/or the perfected eye roll. Cassie has always wanted to be an author, and she decides that a romance novel is just the thing. In between managing life-and-death emergencies in the ER and running her household, she begins writing Wild Rose, under the pseudonym Cardia Loving, and she sets it in the 1970s (“when promiscuity was a badge of honor”). Rosemary “Rose” Christi is Cassie’s younger, more beautiful, sexier alter ego. Chapters of Cassie’s first-person narrative alternate with chapters of Wild Rose. While Rose gallivants around as a photojournalist, Cassie deals with a husband who wants a separation. The author artfully employs the use of humorous juxtaposition: Cassie trying to keep her daughter from experimenting with sex while simultaneously writing all manner of steamy adventures for Rose; Rose meeting a handsome film star at the beach and immediately engaging in hours of torrid sex, while Cassie frantically mops urine off the ER floor when she meets her real-life movie idol. When Wild Rose surprisingly becomes a best-seller, Cassie’s real and imaginary lives begin to collide, as she struggles to keep her pseudonymous identity a secret from family, co-workers, and adoring fans. In this amusing tale, both Cassie and Rose are strong female characters. Despite melodrama in the life of the former and the wildly exaggerated exploits of the latter, they come across as likable and self-sufficient (At one point, Cassie muses: “I chose nursing to help people, to be an angel of mercy, and the math was easier than medical school”). But the male characters are rather two-dimensional, serving more as foils or window dressing. Although the narrative contains plenty of graphic sex, it is generally mild for the genre. Still, the novel ultimately delivers a rewarding ending.
An over-the-top, often witty escape
into fantasy that manages to convey some realistic poignancy on the road to a