by Margaret Wilson, contemporary (2007)
Samhain Publishing, $5.50, ISBN 1-59998-452-0
Ellie's Dream is a pretty nice one, so it's inevitable that it cannot last and reality will come crashing down onto the poor woman soon enough. At 38, Ellie Newman has a perfect family, it seems. Her husband Charlie loves her and their sex life is still as good as it can be for a couple who have been together for nineteen years, her 17-year old son CJ is fine and well-adjusted without the usual teenage angst, and the only black mark in her life was the death of her brother Kit twelve years ago. And then she discovers that her husband has been soliciting a prostitute on the sly. After some soul-searching, Ellie descends onto New York, where she believes all dreams can come true, to find some peace of mind away from her husband and for some "What will I do with my life now?" R&R.
Meanwhile, remember Ellie's late brother Kit? He was an ex-professional football player who died just when he was about to come out of the closet. His boyfriend at that time, Marshall Whitmore, is the cousin of Ellie's best friend Patti. He is an actor whose career has dried up after he came out. He now spends his time sleeping with random men he doesn't like much when he wakes up with him. His occasional roommate is Seth Viera, a struggling musician, who happens to be show up when Marshall allows Ellie to use the apartment while he's away filming for a TV show. Seth has made a personal vow to stay away from women after his latest attempt at getting his career to take off didn't quite go as planned but Ellie's not leaving. Since Seth has no money and he can only mooch off Marshall (as usual), he is going to be spending a lot of time with Ellie no matter what he feels about the situation.
Ellie's Dream is a Magic Man story. You know, those stories where this wonderful man shows up to fix up the lives of everyone around him? That's what I call a Magic Man story. Ellie is the Magic Man here. Seth's icon must be Roger Davis from Rent because he's self-absorbed and selfish to the core... until Ellie shows up, refuses to take his nonsense, and helps him find his inner jazz/blues voice in the process. Ellie befriends Jamie, a young man infatuated with Marshall, and helps him and Marshall get together for a happy ending. Ellie helps Marshall accept the death of his beloved Kit as well even as the two of them experience some shaky start at bonding when Ellie realizes that she's the last to know what everyone else knows - that Kit was Marshall's boyfriend and Marshall was the reason Kit wanted to talk to Ellie right before Kit died.
Ellie is... very sensible, most likable, and has a very nice clear head when it comes to herself and the people around her. She's so nice and sane with no bizarre tics or issues that I can hardly believe that she's what she is. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop and for her to do some outlandishly stupid thing but she never does. Seth can be self-absorbed but around Ellie he's like this adorable fellow who always knows the right thing to say and do when Ellie is feeling down. Marshall is so sweet and heartbreaking all at once with his grief over Kit even if he can be such a self-absorbed twit in the process. Ellie's Dream is like a Hallmark take on Rent, only this time Mimi and Roger are actually functional people and Mimi is the best faghag friend ever for Angel and Tom. I haven't mentioned the spirit of Kit, have I? He's here, kind of like Mark who this time around happens to be gay and dead but staying around nonetheless to narrate the story.
The only problem I have with this book is that egads, it goes on for too long. A number of chapters in the middle could have been easily removed because they don't add anything to the story. But otherwise, it is hard to dislike this book. Ellie is who she is, the adorable woman. Seth can be an ass at times but he never crosses the line, he instead turns out to be such a sweetheart. It helps, of course, that Ellie never allows him to wallow in his self-absorption. Marshall, oh, Marshall, he makes me cry. I'm always a sucker for the grieving man who can't let go and he does that thing of his so heartbreakingly at times.
Despite the overwhelming saccharine feel-good sentiments in this story, I am pleasantly surprised by how nicely written some scenes in this book are. Many of the developments in this story are predictable right down to the "free the one you love" thing, but Ms Wilson makes these otherwise trite plot developments make sense in the context of her story. For example, Ellie wants to free Seth so that he can pursue his dream but in this case this development is a reasonable one.
Ellie nestled in his arms. "I wish it could be different."
"I'll come back to Buffalo with you. Who needs the tour? I'll bet I could get some gigs there."
"You're kidding, right?" Ellie pulled back to look at him. "You can't. I won't let you. That is too big a step for you and you can't let Jennie and the guys down."
"So I let you down instead?" Seth's eyes were tearing.
"You haven't let me down, not once. Sometimes I think I'll miss you so much I won't be able to stand it. But as long as you're doing what you love, what you were born to do, it makes it easier."
"So where does that leave us?" Seth looked into her eyes.
"With two nights and a day." She kissed him deeply, giving everything she had.
Aw, stop it, Ms Wilson, I'm running out of tissues.
I'm normally a cynical person and I scoff at stories that run to the brim with shameless feel-good sentimentality. However, Ellie's Dream is a different kind of amazing altogether, as it manages to get right under my skin and tugs at my heartstrings. The ensemble characters have something really good together as lovers, friends, or family members and as much as their lives and relationships are obviously idealized and romanticized, hey, there are enough realism in the characters, their emotions, and their problems to get me laughing or bawling into a wad of tissues. The end result is a heartwarming story that has me feeling so much better about life in general.
I love every minute when I'm reading this unabashedly feel-good story. Ellie's Dream is indeed a dream of a story. Like Ellie feels when she wakes up from her wonderful dream just when she's starting to take Hugh Jackman's pants off, I'm quite sorry to see it end.
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