In a recent appearance in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, syndicated columnist and novelist Jacquelyn Mitchard maintained that her newest book, TWELVE TIMES BLESSED, is one that men need not be afraid of. The comment got a laugh from the large, almost entirely female audience. After all, TWELVE TIMES BLESSED has all the ingredients of a standard "woman's book." A successful woman, True Dickinson, flirts with an attractive man on her birthday, only to be rescued from death by exposure by the same hunky fellow after her car swerves off the road on her way home. A disastrous date later, True discovers that this is true love and the proverbial bodice-ripping begins. There is love, there is fighting, there is separation, there is tentative but hopeful reconciliation. It is, of course, a familiar formula.
But acknowledging that a book is formulaic is not the same as criticizing the book. After all, as readers of genre fiction know, it's not whether you use the formula, but how you use the formula that counts. And Mitchard's gifts for characterization, humor and pacing elevate TWELVE TIMES BLESSED out of the murky waters of most formula fiction.
While True and her beloved, a younger and somewhat wilder man named Hank, are both well drawn, Mitchard does much of her best character work with less central figures, including True's mother, a woman who expresses her displeasure with her daughter's romantic choices in myriad awful ways. True's son, Guy, is also compelling, as Mitchard does a fine job capturing the rapidly shifting emotions and behavior of a 10-year-old boy caught between childhood and adolescence. Guy's struggles are often poignant, but his antics also provide much of the book's gentle humor.
Though the book is fairly lengthy, checking in at over 500 pages, Mitchard moves her story along (sometimes even a bit too quickly) as True and Hank encounter a variety of challenges, ranging from the trivial to the tragic. The occasional clunky sentence (sometimes involving confusion over the use of the word/name "True" at the beginning of a sentence) slows things down a bit from time to time but, on the whole, Mitchard tells a well-paced story and deftly assures that the reader will root for her two lovers from beginning to end.
Mitchard was right to tell her audience that men need not be afraid of TWELVE TIMES BLESSED. Though told from True's perspective throughout, the book's portrayal of Hank is well done. He is neither wholly a knight-in-shining-armor, nor wholly a rouge. As a result, he is both believable and likeable, as is the novel as a whole.
Reviewed by Rob Cline on January 24, 2011
Twelve Times Blessed