A Note In The Margin
by Isabelle Rowan, contemporary (2009)
Dreamspinner Press, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-935192-67-1

The plot of A Note In The Margin attracted me to this book. Okay, so the story of a city guy retreating to the seaside and finding a happy home in the cozy and peaceful small town is nothing new, but such fantasy nonetheless offers a pleasant little vicarious escape if done right. We have John, an accountant who was told by his doctor that his migraines will only worsen unless John opts for a change of scenery. Therefore, John makes a move from Melbourne to... um, Bradford, I think. John intends to take a year's leave of absence to run the bookstore Margins, but when he falls for local David, his plans become a little less clear cut than he initially imagined them to be.

The story is a pleasant read. The writing is clean, the author's style is easy to digest, and the conversations don't feel too artificial. Sometimes the story dips a little too much into unrealistic psychoanalysis territory, when the characters begin speaking like guest shrinks on a talk show instead of everyday people, but those moments are actually pretty few and mostly packed into the later parts of the story when David's family angst becomes the bigger focus.

As for the characters, John starts out a whiny bore who complains about everything and anything, but he soon undergoes a personality transplant that sees him becoming a more happy person. I can't say I have much problem with the rather abrupt transformation considering that I'd take this pleasant John over the perpetually whining one. David is the really angst-ridden one here, and I have to say, Ms Rowan manages to turn that poor fellow into a poor woobie. What I like here is that the author doesn't resort to overblown melodrama to show me the true extent of poor David's wounded soul. John's attempts to help David pull himself together feel like something an ordinary guy in love would try to do. The whole story doesn't come off like a codependent tale of someone taking care of the other fellow as much as a tale of two people in love trying to get their acts together.

I wish that the author is more generous with details when it comes to her characters. I don't even remember her characters' last names and I'm only sure late in the story that Bradford is the name of John's temporary home rather than, say, the name of a street. The author focuses heavily on what is going on in her characters' heads, which is fine but I also wish she has also taken the opportunity to flesh out more the setting and the background details. This story is about getting away from one's old life, so it makes sense to allow the reader to "see" why Bradford is an amazing place, right?

A Note In The Margin starts out a little slow and even painful as John behaves like a bitter moaning Minnie, but it soon finds its rhythm and becomes an enjoyable tale of emo boys in love. I wish the story has a stronger sense of place, because I feel that the story is a little too focused on the romance at the expense of the setting. But still, this one is a pretty good read once the author has found her stride.

And I really love how the author ends this story. The last sentence is just perfect.

Rating: 83

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