Laura Rider knows that those who can’t do, teach.
What else explains the community college dropout’s epiphany that she is destined to write a romance novel, despite the fact that she and her husband sleep in separate beds?
So goes the premise of Jane Hamilton’s novel, “Laura Rider’s Masterpiece.”
The book focuses on Laura and Charlie Rider, a Wisconsin couple whose patterned but satisfactory lifestyle turns upside down when Charlie meets Laura’s idol, radio talk show host Jenna Faroli.
Determined to model her romance novel’s heroine after Jenna, Laura encourages her husband to pursue a friendship with the radio star.
When they strike up a chain of e-mail correspondence, Laura composes a good share of the letters under Charlie’s name — to practice her writing skills. But the plan backfires when Jenna and Charlie begin a real-life affair.
For readers, the result is a page-turning piece of social satire rooted in romantic dysfunction.
“Laura laughed at the idea that (Jenna) was falling in love with the writer, Charlie, who was actually, in large measure, herself. She laughed harder. They were all insane!” Hamilton writes.
The book marks a new direction for Hamilton, an author known for novels like “The Book of Ruth,” a drama that focuses on Midwestern family bonds.
“Masterpiece” has become one of this summer’s most buzzed-about reading selections, largely because of its comical spin on writing and literature.
Laura’s naivete as romance novelist is one of the most engaging elements in the book. She feels like her novel is her destiny.
“I’ve had this fantasy for years that I’m sitting in a chair, in a long dress, with a cup of tea by my side, and a cigarette in an ashtray. And I’m writing,” Laura says.
She’s convinced reading is enough to make her a good writer.
Laura has, after all, read the selections for her local library’s book club — an often straining task, Hamilton notes.
“It wasn’t always easy, because in her opinion some of the books were wordy, dull, interminable. Hello! We don’t have all day here! She often couldn’t help thinking that if the hero and heroine had only been able to get ahold of medication there would not have been any occasion for a story,” Hamilton writes.
“Masterpiece” also satirizes the often formulaic romance genre, as Laura powers through how-to books that describe elements like the Black Moment, “when there seems to be no solution for the couple in love.”
Rather than a portrait of romance, “Masterpiece” is a dark, humorous look at often empty relationships.
It makes for a literary love affair readers will have a hard time resisting.
Contact Sonya Sorich at firstname.lastname@example.org or 706-571-8516.