LoveSpell, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-505-52747-9
Contemporary Romance, 2008
Sleeping with Ward Cleaver won the American Title-III contest. This one is definitely more of a chick-lit type of story than romance, though. If you do not like reading such books, you may want to cautiously sample a few chapters at the bookstore before taking the book home.
Claire Doolittle who realizes that, after 15 years of marriage, her husband Jack has mutated into Ward Cleaver. That doesn’t mean that Claire is June, though. Feeling pulled in all directions and being very aware of how she is no longer the hot babe she once was, Claire is trying very hard to juggle the responsibilities of being a mother and working part-time. She takes the trouble to create a family dinner only to have the husband nag at the kids during the dinner and causing the kids to put on unhappy faces. She has to deal with sick kids, misbehaving kids, and even smelly kids on her own, only to climb into bed totally spent (and annoyed with the husband for pretending not to notice that he could have helped her) and realize that husband dearest wants to play. Talking with the husband becomes near-impossible because he doesn’t understand why she’s unhappy and claims instead that she’s being difficult.
When Claire makes plans to surprise Jack with her being free to follow him to Miami Beach on his business trip (she is hoping that they can spend some quality time together), he instead scolds her for not telling him in advance. This trip is a serious and busy one, he claims. When Claire learns from Jack’s attractive apprentice that this woman can’t wait to go to the Miami Beach with Jack because it is going to be a fun trip, she has had enough and accuses Jack of having an affair. In the meantime, the reappearance of an ex-boyfriend causes her to speculate wistfully on the possibility of having a more interesting life than the humdrum and stale one that she currently leads. Can this marriage be saved?
I’m pretty sure many married women out there can relate to at least one or two of the situations Claire finds herself in in this story. At least, I certainly can relate to poor Claire in this story. Being a wife and a mother at the same time, the poor dear can’t help feeling overwhelmed and in need of some breathing space. Sleeping with Ward Cleaver is a very engaging read in this respect. I can see pieces of myself in Claire and I often squirm as some of Claire’s thoughts and feelings about marriage and husband nearly mirror those that I have felt and experienced throughout the years of my marriage, filed away in the darkest corner of my mind and labeled “Things that the husband must never know about”. Come on, you know what I am talking about, I’m sure.
It’s not that this book is all gloom and doom, though. Ms Gardiner has a vibrant sense of humor that works pretty well at many instances in this story. This story has its share of comedy to help blunt the sharp edges of the realism that often permeates the story.
However, Claire ends up being a little too “on” for my liking. She makes drama out of every incident in her life, big or small, that I feel exhausted after a while just trying to catch up with her. A part of me begins to suspect that Claire’s tendency to jump to conclusions and subsequently overreact as if the world is ending there and then may be the reason why she claims that she can’t speak to Jack anymore. How does one speak to someone who is bent on making herself the wounded party like Claire? I sympathize with Claire, I do, because in this story Jack does come off as an unreasonable and thoughtless husband at many instances, but I also suspect that Claire has contributed to the rift between them with her own behavior. She makes a pretty big fool of herself as the story progresses, which erodes much of my sympathy for her.
But the biggest weakness of this story, I feel, is the author’s quick rushing of her story to a most unrealistic happy ending where all it takes is a convenient psychoanalyzing of each other to get those two feeling as if they are in love for the first time all over again. The unrealistic happy ending is a splash of cold water to my face after the humorous way the author incorporated bittersweet realism into her story up to that point. I know we need our happy endings in such a genre, but this one is too perfect, tidy, and fake.
Sleeping with Ward Cleaver is definitely a memorable and entertaining read and I won’t hesitate to recommend it, especially to like-minded friends who have been married for a long time and therefore can relate to Claire, heh. But the pay-off isn’t as good as I’ve hoped, which pulls down my final score for this book.