When I opened up Louise Dean’s The Old Romantic, I met a cast of miserable people being miserable to each other.
There’s Nick Goodyew, who has spent his adulthood getting away from the kind of dad who talks like this:
“[I]f you start to finkin about what other people are going through. . .”
“[M]iserable excuse for a youman bein’.”
Nick changes his Christian name (it was Gary). He goes to law school. He gets himself a cashmere-sweater girlfriend, enjoys excellent wines and vacations in Italy.
And he avoids Dad like the cholera.
But sometimes the secretary at Nick’s divorce law firm puts Dad’s calls through.
Ah, Dad. Ken Goodyew. The worst thing about him is that he never hears what you’re saying, and we’re not talking about just his ears.
Add in a younger brother, Davie. This family quivers with tension like full teacups on a moving train, and Davie is the cheerful one that tries to keep the all the cups steady. Round the family out with Pearl, the mother of this clan, long-ago divorced from Ken. In the middle of asking you to hand her the dishcloth, she interrupts herself to curse out the dog, often with thrown objects. There’s also June, Ken’s current wife, a little doughball of a woman who survives his scratchy personality through sheer obliviousness. And finally, there’s Astrid, Nick’s lady friend, worrying over the crow’s feet and under-eye bags that now show up when she looks in the mirror.
Why would anybody want to read about these people?
Well, Dean sneaks in their worries, their hopes and dreams, until the reader discovers she is on their side. And sometimes Ken pulls himself together and speaks as nicely as a waiter hoping for a big tip. Of course, something sets him off and he’s roaring again. The rest of them are as rough as rough on each other as gravel on knees. Then, before you know it, somebody does something amazingly tender.
That’s the Goodyews for ya.
Besides, the book is funny. I can’t take straight up romance unless it’s seasoned with comedy, and Dean does not disappoint. Even a certain temper tantrum tugged at my hard little heart, even as I laughed hard enough to hold my sides. And there’s a scene that put me off false eyelashes forever.
As a bonus, Dean writes beautifully. Can you really resist descriptions like this:
“[A] hinterland of hop bine and tractor track, white weatherboard cottage and oast house, fruit field and orchard. That morning when he walked the dog, with woodsmoke forming halos above the dwellings.”
If you hang with the Goodyews, you will need to look up British slang and consumer goods, just to make sense of what they’re drinking or what they’re looking at. Or maybe you already know what Swingball is, or a Yorkie. Or a Lucozade, a carrier bag, a funfair.
Good luck as you proceed.
As for me, The Old Romantic reminded me that we have to stick with each other, because each other is all we’ve got.
Photo credit: Neil. Moralee via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND