A wimp travels the rocky road to empowerment in the Massachusetts author’s fourth novel.
Medwed, who struck romantic-comic gold with Mail (1997) and Host Family (2000), is an insistently friendly writer who chats frequently with the reader while voicing her protagonist (and narrator) Abigail Randolph’s hopes, fears and recriminations. Abby is 33, divorced from faithless Clyde, still mourning the death of her mother in an earthquake in India (whence mom had fled with her female lover Henrietta, materfamilias of the Randolphs’ best friends and Cambridge academic-circle neighbors), involved only with the antique shop whose name—A. & C. Eclectibles—keeps reminding her of the vanished Clyde. Abby’s fortunes change when a chamberpot relinquished to her by former girlhood pal Lavinia (Henrietta’s daughter) is identified as the one-time property of poet E.B. Browning (Abby appears on TV’s Antiques Roadshow, and becomes a minor celebrity). This brings out the worst in superefficient martinet Lavinia, who sues for possession of the chamberpot, thus dredging up memories of Abby’s shattered romance with Lavinia’s dreamy brother Ned, who had sworn eternal love, then revealed all Abby’s failures and embarrassments in a crummy autobiographical novel. Abby sulks, overeats, vegetates, wades through legal niceties and intricacies, has an ill-advised fling with a straight-out-of-GQ news reporter, survives the deposition at which she faces down Lavinia and re-encounters repentant Ned, then makes another serendipitous “find,” and emerges—to her amazement—not only unscathed, but happy, for God’s sake. It’s all fairly frothy, and rather overloaded with wisecracks and breathless successions of rhetorical questions. But Medwed briskly depicts the odd world of flea markets and tag sales, and makes of Abby’s arduous liberation (not unlike the invalid Browning’s) an adventure to which Jane Austen might have raised a celebratory glass of port.
A sitcom with heart, and a whole lot of fun.