A Silicon Valley widow finds the healing power of befriending people worse off than she is.
At 36, Sophie Stanton, recent widow of cancer-victim Ethan, finds her situation unbearable: she is lonely, depressed, prone to overeating, obsessed with wearing Ethan’s ski sweater, and unable to function as p.r. manager for a California firm that manufactures a “scrotum patch.” When Sophie arrives at work in her robe and slippers, she’s granted a leave and moves near her separated friend Ruth, in Ashland, Oregon, which has an alternative Shakespeare Festival and available men. Like Bridget Jones, Sophie is made endearing by her many faults: her “hurricane hair,” her weight-gaining tendency, her compassion for losers—like the men who try to pick her up—and her unconquerable hopefulness. In her new digs, demoted from waitress to “salad girl” at her bistro job, she finds a touching redemption in mentoring sassy-mouthed Crystal, a 13-year-old who’s failing algebra, periodically cuts herself to relieve frustration, and is dismissed by her own mother as a freak. Yet a much-needed friendship sparks between the two, as well as between Sophie and a handsome local actor, Drew, as she comes into her own—invariably over the theme of food!—by opening a cheesecake shop and gaining a heroic autonomy. If all this sounds perfectly familiar, it is, as “women's fiction” assumes an increasingly hackneyed formula, led by the self-deprecating fat girl and packed with ebullient cheerleading and nary a truly dark or original moment. The characters are frothy, the dialogue chipper, the introspection restricted. Death becomes just another hurdle on the way to self-betterment—along with weight-management and resumé-padding. Are women this desperate?
Effervescent, silly debut: so eager to please that it reads like the speech of the candidate who won’t open his mouth before the polls are consulted.