Warner, £5.99, ISBN 0-7515-2574-X
Contemporary Fiction, 2000 (Reissue)
Generation gaps are never this fun. Soft Touch is a madcap contemporary story that almost but doesn’t degenerate into farce. It isn’t exactly original, but it’s hilarious.
Meet Catherine Hope, a thirty-nine year old long-suffering schoolteacher at Rosemount Primary. Her job is the pits, her favorite student Bonnie who reminds her of herself is being bullied, and her best friend and principal Simon is stepping down. No, she’s not up for promotion – the obnoxious Brian who hates her is. Now she knows she is going to have a miserable time next year. Plus, Simon makes a pass at her the day she gets the bad news.
Her daughter, Rachel, is seventeen going on eighteen. She was once a nice, obedient, studious girl, but now all she wants is to show Mum and Dad the finger. Catherine rushes for the wine bar at home.
One day they all visit Lavinia, Catherine’s very disapproving mother-in-law. Rachel meets this guy Marko, and it’s lust at first sight. She asks Catherine if she can spend weekends at Granny’s. Catherine and her husband give each other “Is she for real?” glances but hey, they let her go. Lavinia is delighted. Now she can hopefully undo the damage she is convinced her useless daughter-in-law did on her granddaughter. Lavinia doesn’t know she is soon headed for a nice little comeuppance when Rachel runs off into the woods to join Marko and gang in an environmentalist protest. The little missy wants to grow up and go wild, and not even Granny can stop her.
This book is a hoot. Rachel, Lavinia, and Catherine all start out caricatures but they bond over really hilarious turn of events. Soon all three are learning that they are more alike than they thought (or liked), as Lavinia dashes off to commando the opposition to the save-the-woods protest, Rachel insists on saving the woods, and Catherine has to fight for reforms in her workplace. Of all three, Lavinia’s characterization is the most conventional and safe – an old woman who has given up her voice and rights only to gain them back with an old boyfriend. Catherine is a more complicated character who tries so hard to be a good mother and teacher but sometimes she just loses it. And Rachel, well, she grows up in the end, but it is not the kind of maturity that comes without a price.
But if this book sounds serious, well, the serious part is mostly buried under hilarious prose and dialogues. Catherine, especially, makes me laugh myself silly with her thoughts about teaching and motherhood that make me nod and say, “Amen, sister.” he humor only makes the whole story more enjoyable.
Even if it descends into awful melodrama and soap opera towards the last few chapters, Soft Touch captivates me. So much that I (almost) overlooked the irritating head hopping and changes in points of view (sometimes even within a paragraph!) and the presence of some side-plots that go nowhere.
The cover of this book has a quote: “Mind the generation gap!” But with a story this fun, I’d say what the heck, I’m going to jump right in without hesitation. This book is fun.