Sunday, October 8, 2017

Book Review: Knitting Under the Influence by Claire LaZebnik

Knitting Under the Influence Cover Terrific book by one of my favorite authors

Knitting Under the Influence by Claire LaZebnik

Reading Level: Adult Romance
Release Date: November 15, 2008
Publisher: 5 Spot
Length: 412 pages
Source: Purchase
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry

In this frequently humorous novel set in the glitzy world of LA, three best friends who are in their late 20's regularly connect to knit together and gossip about their lives. Two of the friends, Lucy and Sari, have known each other since childhood, and Kathleen is a latecomer to the team. She is a fraternal triplet with two identical twin sisters who have been actors since babyhood. As such, they are, I assume, purposely reminiscent of the Olsen twins.

Kathleen is gorgeous and is willing to have sex with an interesting, attractive man, but she doesn't commit, because she has a low threshold of boredom. At the beginning of the book, she walks out of her long-term, greatly under-appreciated job as live-in caretaker of her sisters and ends up landing immediately on her feet as a housesitter for a $2.5-million, downtown apartment owned by 47-year-old, divorced, real-estate mogul, Sam.

Sari has an autistic older brother, and her career is counseling and teaching autistic kids. Her romantic interest is the father of an autistic four-year-old. She believes (but is not absolutely sure her memory is accurate) that years ago, in high school, he either actively participated in, or stood by and did not stop, harassment of her autistic brother.

Lucy is a brilliant scientific researcher engaged in animal-testing on rats who has been dating an equally brilliant researcher for quite a while. He is handsome and she's very sexually attracted to him, but he is a judgmental, narcissistic jerk. Unfortunately, Lucy, who used to be quite overweight in high school and is now svelt and attractive, suffers from low self-esteem and figures that she would be nuts to walk away from such a socially high-status boyfriend. Meanwhile she regularly verbally skirmishes with, and also strongly respects, her lab partner David, who is half Chinese, half Jewish, and every bit as brilliant as her jerky boyfriend, but not remotely as good looking or high status.

The central core of the book, as is the case with all women's fiction (versus romance fiction), is the relationship between the three women. The author presents an idealized view that they will be there for each other when, eventually, their future husbands inevitably desert them (because men are cads), and their ungrateful, future, teen and adult offspring sneer at them or ignore them. In a great many chick-lit novels, especially those by this author, there is a theme that is also a staple of young-adult fiction, "coming of age," that is, over the course of the novel, the protagonist gains much greater emotional maturity and hard-won wisdom than she displays at the beginning of the novel. This particular chick-lit novel is rather a hybrid of chick-lit and romance fiction in that all three female protagonists gradually move beyond the premise that only female friends can be trusted, into more of a romance-novel world view, that it is possible to form healthy, mutually supportive, heterosexual, mated relationships. They accomplish this by growing beyond a long-standing habit of passively complaining to each other about their dysfunctional romantic relationships to, instead, displaying strong, personal, emotional boundaries and directly confronting the men in their lives, thereby allowing those men to either step up to the plate and prove that they can be mature, too, or walk out and remove their destructive, egocentric selves from the heroines' lives.

I admit freely that I am a fan of Claire LaZebnik. I have read every one of her books, most of them twice, and this one three times. Let me further say that is quite a compliment because, as you can see by many of my remarks above, that I am not at all a fan of chick lit and never have been. I much prefer the greater optimism (as I see it, anyway) of the romance genre. Chick lit has been around for several decades, ever since Bridget Jones's Diary, and involves a very narrow range of female experience, essentially clueless and immature twenty-something women who form close friendships with other women but have a lot of dating disasters with equally clueless and immature men. The ultimate conclusion of such books tends to be that it is amazing that heterosexual twenty-somethings ever manage to form healthy romantic alliances at all, and maybe it isn't even worth trying--why not just stick to your female friends, who will always be there for you emotionally, and call it a day? In short, even when they are humorous, the underlying world view of chick-lit novels tends to be rather depressing, especially when everyone involved is copiously drowning their social frustrations, or boosting their courage to resume the romantic fray, with buckets of booze, or either loading up on junk food (without, improbably, getting fat) or engaging in anorexic behavior to stay thin (though I will admit a certain amount of this same behavior occurs in many modern romance novels, especially the Harlequin Blaze type novels).

For the very reason that I'm personally not fond of chick lit, I've asked myself frequently why I like this book so much, and my ultimate conclusion is I can't get enough of Kathleen and Sam, both individually and as a couple. Kathleen is rather ditzy and she drinks too much, as I've mentioned that most chick-lit heroines tend to do, but I love her natural athleticism, her complete detachment from the utter superficiality of the Hollywood world she has been on the fringe of for years, and her careless disinterest in the power she could easily wield over men if she chose to do so due to her obvious physical beauty. Instead, the focus of her life is her friendships and her great zest for engaging in witty banter with all comers.

Speaking of that banter, anyone who is a fan of the famous, Regency-romance author, Georgette Heyer, who is a master of witty banter, will love Kathleen and Sam, and Kathleen's banter in general with her two women friends as well. There is also, to a lesser degree, some banter between Lucy and her romantic interest, David. In my humble opinion, the ability to engage in verbal wordplay (or as an author, the ability to write it in dialogue) is a sign of creativity and high intelligence, and I savor it wherever I can find it. (There is quite a bit of it, by the way, in the Harry Dresden series by the brilliant Jim Butcher, one of the major features I enjoy about Harry as a character, above and beyond what he is most famous for, his bravery and power as a fighting wizard.)

I also love slow-burn romance plots, especially romances that begin with a wary slide into friendship, and the relationship between Kathleen and Sam has all those features. For that reason, it is one of my favorite romantic relationships among all of Ms. LaZebnik's books.

I rate this book as follows:

Heroine Kathleen: 5

Heroine Sari: 3

Heroine Lucy: 3

Hero Sam: 5

Hero Jason: 4

Hero David: 4

Friendship Plot: 5

Romance Plot Kathleen: 5

Romance Plot Sari: 3

Romance Plot Lucy: 4

Writing: 5

Overall: 4

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