The right book can instantly transport you to anywhere — and anytime — in the world. Every Thursday, we recommend one of our favorite books with a strong sense of place so you can see the sights, meet remarkable people, go on exciting adventures, and feel big feelings. Bonus: You don't even have to put on pants.
This post is part of our 'Weekend Getaway' series.
This weekend, take a bookish getaway to a small town in New England. It’s a charming place — cozy Main Street shops, a pretty college campus, friendly locals. Happily, it’s also a hotbed of romantic intrigue and lip-smacking gossip. In Elinor Lipman’s capable hands, all the elements come together for an irresistible romantic dramedy.
Melinda LeBlanc, a former high school popular girl, is back in her hometown after a failed attempt to conquer the rest of the world. She has no idea who she is, what she wants, or what she’s doing.
Melinda is living back at her mom’s house — ‘We worked this out, my third-floor privacy, before I returned to Harrow. She had no idea how homesick I had been and how few concessions she had to make.’ — and working at her cousin’s flower shop, creating ‘artsy’ arrangements for the local college and enjoying a commitment-free, relationship-of-proximity with a wedding band musician on Saturday nights.
But she needs emotional connections, whether she can admit it to herself or not. Friends to go for drinks after work and, if the stars align, a romantic partner who’s more interested in commitment than convenience.
First on the list: a confidante with whom to commiserate over the foibles of returning to the place they thought they’d left forever. The most available option is Libby, owner of the quirky dress shop next door to the Forget-Me-Not florist. Soon, they’re both swooning over Dennis, handsome owner of the über-popular fly fishing store that shares their block of Main Street. While decidedly pretending that they are not, in any way, swooning over Dennis.
Like a perfect cappuccino, this novel is sweet and frothy on the surface with an inch or so of slightly bitter, dark espresso at the bottom. Be prepared to laugh out loud as Elinor Lipman affectionately skewers the snobbery and pretensions of life in a small college town: the behind-the-hand gossip, the backroom deal-making, the way past glories shape the present, and the secret alliances and grudges that simmer under every conversation.
Despite — or perhaps because of — her faults, Melinda is a heroine we can root for. She can’t see the qualities that make her so much cooler than the high school version of herself she envies. Even as truly foolish words blurt from her mouth, and she acts on self-defeating impulses, we want her to succeed and find her heart’s desire.
When she finally gets real with herself and the people who matter most to her, the whole world blossoms, and a fresh start in this familiar place just might be possible.
The shops stand three across: mine in the middle, Dennis Vaughan’s to my left, and Libby Getchel’s to my right, fronting on Main Street in Harrow, Massachusetts. We like the quaint sound of that, ‘Main Street,’ because all of us lived somewhere more irritating for a time and returned home with the conviction that a gentrified college town (cappuccino machines, poetry readings, bike paths), with shade trees and paper ballots, with stylish food and parking meters that still took dimes and nickles, would give us Quality of Life. I arrange flowers for a living, a barren business for a single woman, just one of the reasons I’m in transition. — Elinor Lipman
This romantic comedy (305 pages) was published in February of 1993 by Washington Square Press. The book takes you to a small college town. Melissa read The Way Men Act and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.
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