21 Aug 2017
(For a limited time, the Kindle version of “Pride’s Children: Purgatory” is available for $2.99. It’s 484 pages, so the price is a steal. If you like a well-written, thoughtful, character-driven romance — no heavy sex — so head to Amazon, check out the “Read Inside” option and see what you think.)
At the risk of being misleading, “Pride’s Children” by Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt is a romance novel about a writer with chronic fatigue syndrome and an Irish movie actor, set in New Hampshire during the filming of a Revolutionary War movie. It deals with the reality of managing an illness that saps your energy and doesn’t leave visible marks, a rising star dealing with the risks of fame on his ability to trust and love, and the morality of his ambitious co-star who trades on her beauty to move up the Hollywood ladder.
There’s a lot to unpack in the above paragraph, which squeezed all of the juice out of the story and risks leaving it boxed in a genre that’s not known for subtlety of character and a willingness to range farther than the bedroom. It must be the kind of feeling Jennifer Weiner gets when her books are labeled “chick lit,” because they have women in them who have relationships.
Kary Ashe does not fit the model of a typical romance heroine. She’s not young, she’s not spunky, and unlike a lot of novels that feature writers, she actually spends her time writing, rewriting, editing, and sometimes frustrated by it all. She also has a previous life. She had been a doctor, married, with children, until her illness destroyed her marriage (he left for another woman), then her son fell ill and died. She focused on rebuilding her life as a reclusive author, living in a hilltop home outside a village in southern New Hampshire. Like most good writers, she is self-involved, self-protective, but also observant and hard-working.
The book at the end, with an press announcement that Kary will suddenly marry the actor Andrew O’Connell after he left his pregnant co-star in the hospital. Ignore that it appeared in The New Yorker; I forgave it after I fell in love with the story.
The rest of the book, and the two that will follow, show how she reached her “happy ever after.”
To promote her latest novel, Kary agrees to go on a talk show, which tests her resilience and throws her together with Andrew. They discover a connection, a tenuous, gentle meeting of minds. It’s not a meet-cute favored by Hollywood rom-coms or an igniting of physical desire, but an attraction nonetheless. All that divides them are her need to take care of herself, her reclusiveness, his gypsy life as a star, and the inherent mistrust of everyone new he meets.
They meet again when Andrew comes to southern New Hampshire to film his Revolutionary War movie, and the rest of “Pride’s Children” plays out over the course of filming. Kary has to deal with her feelings for Andrew, which at one point bordered on obsession. Andrew discovers a growing attraction for the older, ill woman. At the same time, he has wants to play the lead in a movie his costar, the young, hot and ambitious Bianca. Her drive to succeed — think Angelina Jolie — will add complications to Kary’s budding relationship.
The story is told from the three characters’ viewpoints, and part of the fun of the book comes from picking out the differences between how they see the same situations. The author takes her time on exploring their feelings and emotions. There’s also outside challenges, including a girl’s attempt to seduce Andrew and resurfacing of Kerry’s ex-husband.
“Pride’s Children: Purgatory” reminded me of “Notting Hill,” particularly the problems a private person has moving into a star’s very hot and public orbit. But the resemblance ends there. This is the first book of the trilogy, so the story doesn’t end with the happy couple clenching and wedding bells chiming. That may be too long to wait for some readers, but I don’t mind. I loved submersing myself in Kary and Andrew’s worlds, and look forward to meeting them again.