Tuesday, April 06, 2010

New Today: Looking for a Love Story by Louise Shaffer

Presumably, when Louise Shaffer’s first book was published -- 1994’s All My Suspects -- the new author had a built-in audience. After all, by that point, Shaffer’s face and voice were familiar to millions of television viewers because, as an actress, she’d been appearing in popular soap operas since the 1960s.

Reportedly, when Shaffer got to an age when available roles started thinning, she picked up a pen. First writing for soaps -- from Ryan’s Hope to Another World, General Hospital and others -- and then as a novelist.

It’s not surprising that Shaffer’s books are aimed sharply at women. Considering her platform -- that whole soap thing -- it would be practically irresponsible for her marketing people not to go that route. After all, few writers start out with the sort of potential readership base that she had.

What is surprising are the books themselves: so much more than they need to be and though the titles and the covers would suggest otherwise, Shaffer’s books are far beyond simple romance.

Take, for instance, her latest novel, Looking For A Love Story (Ballantine). The protagonist is an author whose first novel -- a hilarious look at love through the eyes of a dog -- comes too close to home when she splits with her photographer husband and Francesca gets custody of the couple’s beloved pooch. In order to help her over her rough patch, Francesca takes a job ghost writing the memoirs of an elderly woman’s parents. Joe and Ellie were performers who toured the vaudeville circuit in the 1920s. Looking closely at Joe and Ellie’s lives causes Francesca to look deeply at her own and the twinned stories -- one present, one deeply past -- lead her towards her own emotional redemption: though not without some very good laughs.

It is not the easiest thing to bring two timelines to life in a single book. That is, it must be very difficult: we’ve seen it done badly so often. Shaffer makes it work, though. More: she makes it sing.

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