Another British entry into the flowering ranks of postmarriage chick-lit (see the similarly titled Starter Wife, p. 495) recounts the “adventures” of a woman coping with divorce.
Tess, an elementary school teacher, is devastated when her lawyer husband, Barney, announces on Boxing Day that he’s leaving her for his secretary, Dawn. Nicknamed Tip Top Tess for her tidying ways, Tess lets herself and her flat fall into such messy disrepair that her friend Mel suggests she join a divorce-survivor’s group run by William, whose semi-accurate perceptions are interspersed with Tess’s narration. Slowly, Tess gets to know her fellow survivors: big-hearted Carol Ann, whose cheating husband has died since he left her; beautiful media celebrity Jo, who cheated on her husband; natty Natalie, whose husband beats her; shaggy, sexy Aaron, with whom Tess has a very unsatisfactory one-night stand. After Barney tells Tess that Dawn is pregnant, Tess begins to face the fact that her marriage is irretrievably over, that it was probably only a “starter marriage.” First-novelist Harrison takes a leisurely approach as Tess flops around in her misery, drinking too much, learning her parents’ unhappy secrets and generally feeling sorry for herself. Then, on a school outdoor adventure program, she meets Robin, the program leader, who helps her overcome her fear of water. Just as romance is about to bloom, one of the children goes missing along with Robin’s daughter. The kids are found, but Tess’s romance stalls. Meanwhile, Natalie moves in with Tess to hide from her husband, Jo is caught in a tabloid scandal and William realizes he has fallen in love with Carol Ann. For kickers, Barney announces he wants Tess back despite his impending fatherhood—and Robin text-messages that he wants to pick up where he and Tess left off during the school trip.
Not much doubt how things will turn out. Still, the writing is sprightly and surprisingly engaging.