Dance Real Slow
by Michael Grant Jaffe, contemporary (1996)
Bantam, $5.99, ISBN 0-553-57709-3

Just when I thought every pop male author has turned into a crappy sap like that King of Valentino Mush, Nicholas "I Can't Write A Decent Romance Without Going Overboard" Sparks, comes this low-key but moving story by Michael Grant Jaffe. Dance Real Slow - what a beautiful title! - tells the story of a thirtysomething single father Gordon Nash doing his best to juggle between being a good father to four-year old Calvin and his job as an attorney. Okay, Mr Jaffe does romanticize the single father hero a little, but he does it with such easy-going and underplayed subtlety that I willingly fall for it. Gordon is a wonderful father and Calvin is such an adorable (in a bittersweet way) boy.

Gordon's wife has left them and signed the divorce papers two years before. His big dreams of moving up the food chain and being a high-powered litigator have to take a back seat to taking care of his bright but emotionally confused little boy. How he goes about doing it, day by day, month by month, is told in simple, sometimes awkward, sometimes beautiful prose that has me sighing, reaching for the hankie, and smiling.

If this review lacks a clear summary, well, that's because this book lacks a clear plot. Just a good man trying hard to be a good father while trying to get his own life back together again. It's not easy. Calvin eats dirt, calls his stuffed Portuguese man-o-war Mom, and demands Gordon's constant attention. Gordan wishes to start something beyond platonic relationship with vet Zoe. When ex-wife Kate comes back in his life for one last meeting with Calvin, well, Gordon would have to reevaluate his priorities and life.

Simple and nicely done. No overwrought sentimentality here for Mr Jaffe. Hence, it is such a pleasure to read of a great guy and father like Gordon. He has his weaknesses, he loses his temper, he's human. What a hunk. If category romance heroines know what's good for them, they would emigrate from Texas to Kansas now.

Then there's Calvin, adorable Calvin who acts four. His need for affection moves me deeply. Sometimes his father doesn't understand him, poor boy, but the father-son relationship is one of the strongest and most effective I've ever read in a book. The quiet moments between them, be it bathing time or a quiet drive down to the local diner's bring back wistful memories of my own and a big smile on my face. How lovely.

I must admit sometimes the prose gets on the flat side, but what the heck. With Sting's Shall We Dance? playing in the boom box and this book in my hands, life - for the moment - is pure sunshine and a wonderful man walking into the sunset with a delightful little boy's hand in his.

Rating: 88

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