Mathieu’s (The Next to Last Drink, 2014, etc.) novel explores the evolutionary concepts of masculinity and femininity, the societal norms that shape us, and some good, old-fashioned romance.
Nora Bookbinder is a flinty go-getter of a gallery owner in Maine. She lives a happily single existence, helping her ailing father, Eugene; walking on the beach and discussing life with her best friend, Emma; and feeling that most men have a violent streak and that she’s better off without them. But when an earthquake hits (in an apt metaphor for the havoc it wreaks on the protagonist’s life), seismologist Drew Hollister comes to town. He’s smart, capable, and interesting, which would be enough to turn any woman’s head. When he turns Nora’s, in spite of her well-crafted defenses, he not only taps into her passion but pierces her very sense of self. It’s a cataclysmic shock that leads to her skipping town for a vacation. As readers watch Nora grapple with what love means and what it does, Mathieu’s prose is often ponderous (“Drew was always on my mind, continually, like a compressor running in the background”), and scenes often shift from past to present with stop-and-start jerks. Also, Nora’s independence-at-any-cost persona and distrust of all male-female relationships can make her feel less than three-dimensional; it’s hard not to want her character to evolve, even as one roots for her to hang onto her feminist ideals. “I had become like ordinary women I had long criticized for succumbing to desire,” Nora tells readers. “Loving Drew had made me vulnerable.” Of course, that’s exactly what love does—and how it often brings about the best in people. That said, women who’ve dealt with similar conflicts in their own lives will want to cheer Nora on.
A contemporary girl-meets-boy story that taps into an age-old lament by women: Men. Can’t live with ’em. Can’t live without ’em.