A lighthearted comic tale about three friends who move to a South American villa and get more than they bargained for.
Charlier’s (Drive for Dough, 2014, etc.) latest short novel features a trio of Iowa friends: practical, cerebral Katie, high-strung Lisa, and compassionate, thoughtful narrator Monica. They met in group therapy in Des Moines, Iowa, two years earlier; after getting to know one another, they decided to uproot themselves from their settled, slightly boring existences and take a chance. It’s an adventure that will be familiar to readers of books such as Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence (1989) or Frances Mayes’ Bella Tuscany (2000): they travel to a foreign land to have a go at a new life. Five years before, Monica bought Hacienda Nusta in arid, south-central Bolivia, but when she and her friends decide to go there to turn it into a tourist destination, it’s fallen into discouraging ruin: “The courtyard itself was nothing but weeds, bare dirt, and broken paving stones. The fountain I had taken pictures of five years before was missing.” As the three women grapple with the protracted repairs to give their hotel dream a chance of success, they try to adapt to their new surroundings. At the same time, the inherent tension of the situation brings strong emotions to the surface and tests the bonds they formed back in Iowa. Charlier effectively peppers her familiar scenario with plenty of plot complications, including an alluring stranger who’s camped out on the hacienda’s property (and quickly becomes Monica’s love interest) and rumors of a “werecat” prowling the chaparral. The author’s keen ear for dialogue is reliable and enjoyable, and she has sure instincts when dramatizing the spiky nature of adult friendship, relating the women’s story with natural pacing and humor. At one point, when most of the plot complications have settled down, one character asserts that “[y]ou have to learn to look forward in your life for joy.” In this novel, Charlier has crafted a confidently joyful story.
A very human, very pleasing makeover of the standard Americans-abroad narrative.