Review

Maybe This Time

by Jennifer Crusie

In 1898 Henry James published THE TURN OF THE SCREW, his
famously creepy novella about a governess hired on at an English
estate that she comes to believe is haunted by ghosts and hiding
evil secrets. More than 210 years later, bestselling author
Jennifer Crusie revisits James's story and gives it a contemporary
feel. MAYBE THIS TIME is not a rewrite of the gothic classic, but
is very much related to it in plot and theme. While critics and
readers have long debated the meaning of James's atmospheric tale,
Crusie's is a bit more straightforward, though she does offer
plenty of fun and provocative twists and turns to keep her audience
guessing as the story unfolds.

MAYBE THIS TIME also centers on a woman caring for children not
her own in an old and eerie house. After marching into her
ex-husband's office to finally end contact with him once and for
all, Andie Miller instead finds herself doing him a huge favor. She
agrees to spend some time taking care of two of his young orphaned
relatives. Carter and Alice have experienced a lot of trauma, most
recently the death of the young aunt who lived with them. Now they
are alone with a housekeeper named Mrs. Crumb in a remote area of
southern Ohio. Andie plans to help them transition through this
difficult period, resume their school work, and get them ready to
move north to Columbus to be with her ex, who is now their legal
guardian.

Andie finds the house bizarre, the housekeeper unwelcoming, and
the children strange. She sets out to win the kids over but feels
like there is something they’re not telling her. But with
perseverance and honesty (not to mention lots of gifts, bribes and
homemade baked treats), she starts to build a relationship with
them. Yet even as she has success with Carter and Alice, she is
bothered by frightening dreams, erotic thoughts about her
ex-husband, movement in her peripheral vision, and the presence of
unexplained visitors to the house and property. Andie doesn't
believe in ghosts, but soon she runs out of alternate explanations
for all the activity in and around the house. Why does Carter
always light fires? Why does the rocking chair in Alice's room rock
on its own? Who is the ephemeral figure visiting Andie at night?
Who are the man in the tower and the woman in the garden? What does
Mrs. Crumb know about it all?

Before she knows it, the skeptical Andie agrees to a séance
and finds the house filled with a number of characters who don't
always have the interest of the children in mind. Add to that her
split with her fiancé, her new-found feelings for her
ex-husband, the metaphysical beliefs of her eccentric mother, a
pesky journalist, bodily possession, grave robbing and a huge
storm, and you have a funny, scary, romantic, page-turning climax
that a lesser author couldn't successfully write. But Crusie
manages to keep all the plates spinning with ease and write a ghost
story that turns the genre on its head, offering readers much more
than just chills and goosebumps. In fact, MAYBE THIS TIME is less
scary than it is interesting and entertaining. There is just enough
supernatural activity, but it is well-balanced with skepticism and
humor, laced with a love story and family drama, and full of
compelling characters.

Andie Miller is a great re-working of James's unnamed governess;
she is a strong and bold figure in contrast to the naive and weak
governess. But she still must confront forces larger than herself
and unravel family secrets, all the while trying to maintain her
dignity and sanity. Crusie gives her the voice and power that
James's character lacked, adding depth and dimension. THE TURN OF
THE SCREW remains a fascinating classic, and part of its appeal is
its mystery. MAYBE THIS TIME takes some of that mystery and
addresses it in an intriguing way. Yet, despite its relationship to
the older tale, it is, without a doubt, its own story and an
engrossing original.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on June 3, 2011

Maybe This Time
by Jennifer Crusie

  • Publication Date: August 31, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • ISBN-10: 0312303785
  • ISBN-13: 9780312303785