|Linda Nichols: Handyman|
Press (Hardback), ISBN 0-385-33437-0
Maggie Ivey needs more repair than the seedy apartment she lives in. Who better to reconstruct her life than Jake Cooper, half-owner of Cooper-Jackson Construction and General Contractors? After all, the company motto reads, "Let us turn your dream into reality." And Handyman Jake certainly wants to do just that after Maggie walks into his life. He can't let her go -- or tell her the truth.
Dr. Jason Golding, pop psychologist extraordinaire, hired Jake and his partner, Ethelda Jackson, to remodel his office. Meanwhile, Maggie's friend Gina gave her 21 days of therapy from Dr. Golding. When the sobbing, distraught Maggie arrives for the first session of Dr. Golding's famous 21-Day Overhaul, behind the doctor's desk sits a quiet, handsome man who listens to her woes and never reveals his name. Maggie assumes the laconic man listening to her is Dr. Golding. Jake doesn't disagree. How can he? One session and this sweet, troubled woman puts a lock on his heart.
And troubled she is -- in fact, too troubled, too needy, too downtrodden. Nichols pours tragedy in Maggie's life thicker than concrete. Maggie, a single parent, suffers from no money, works for a boss who sexually harasses her at every opportunity and keeps her in employment limbo in the Temp Help pool. Her sickly five-year-old son needs ear surgery. Her mother wants her to move back home to Georgia. And Maggie lives in a worn-down apartment building on the wrong side of the San Francisco Bay. Will 21 days even begin to fix Maggie's problems?
While Jake builds a new Maggie, others draw up plans to tear her down. When Gina learns that Maggie's 21-Day Overhaul involves more than the routine one-hour sessions, she becomes suspicious. Jake's narcissistic ex-girlfriend Lindsay schemes to rekindle their romance, but Jake doesn't want her back. Besides, impersonating Dr. Golding keeps Jake too busy. Just how far can he ethically push the patient-doctor relationship?
Every time Dr. Golding enters the scene, Nichols's sharp wit and satirical tone prevail. At the zenith of his career, about to deliver a paper to a prestigious group of his peers who previously scorned his celebrity success, Dr. Golding suffers a heart attack. Stuck in a New York hospital, Golding plots new ways to scam money from his unsuspecting, gullible patients. You can't help but cheer his inventiveness, if nothing else.
But the not-so-good doctor pushes his feel-good books as much as he ignores his patients. How long before Maggie buys one and looks at the picture on the book jacket?
Although Handyman offers some entertaining moments, an overabundance of exposition slows the narrative pace. Nichols misses opportunities for her characters to interact. Nichols "tells" too much of the book when she should let her characters do the talking. But perhaps we shouldn't expect first books to operate like Cooper-Jackson Construction and General Contractors and turn our dream into reality.
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