Two of Jane Hamilton’s earlier novels --- A MAP OF THE
WORLD and THE BOOK OF RUTH --- were both featured as
selections of Oprah’s famous Book Club. Partly thanks to this
early exposure, readers have expected Hamilton to keep producing
more of the same dramatic, gut-wrenching women’s fiction that
drew the attention of Oprah Winfrey in the first place.
With LAURA RIDER’S MASTERPIECE, they might be in for
something completely different. Although this new novel disguises
some significant issues behind a veneer of humor and lighthearted
description, it does so in a way that will certainly surprise many
of Hamilton’s long-time readers.
The title character, Laura, is a middle-aged woman who has
recently decided she’s finished having sex with her nearly
insatiable husband Charlie. The two of them have a happy enough
marriage as spouses and business partners, as they’ve
together built a successful nursery and garden center near their
rural Wisconsin home. But after 12 years of marriage, Laura is
ready to devote herself more fully to her new passion: writing.
She’s branching out from the articles she’s written as
part of the nursery’s e-newsletter and into what she knows
she’s always been meant to write: romance novels.
Laura got the idea to write a romance novel starring an
unspecified “Every Woman” when she heard a literary
historian interviewed on a public radio program starring her idol,
Jenna Faroli, who has recently moved with her husband to Laura and
Charlie’s small town. When Laura finally meets Jenna, and
when Jenna and Charlie hit it off after a chance meeting, Laura has
a spark of inspiration. What if she could follow all the formulas
in her “how to write a romance” guidebooks, to
manufacture a textbook romance --- in real life?
The expected, often hilarious, complications ensue when Charlie
(and Laura) woos Jenna via e-mail, and when worldly Jenna finds
herself oddly drawn to Charlie’s exuberance,
naïveté and powerful sexual charms. Will Charlie and
Jenna’s love affair be the masterpiece Laura envisions? Or
will the yarns she’s spinning ravel out of control?
LAURA RIDER’S MASTERPIECE is a broadly comic novel that,
at first glance, seems at odds with Hamilton’s previous
works. However, although this title might not be an obvious choice
for Oprah’s Book Club, there’s still plenty of fodder
for discussion in Laura’s story. The expectations and
disappointments inherent in marriage and parenthood, the contrast
between urban and rural, educated and uneducated people, the
at-times ludicrous endeavor of fiction writing --- all these are
explored with great aplomb, and more than a hint of satire, in
Hamilton’s latest. In particular, a biting scene in which a
wounded Jenna conducts a radio interview with a clueless Laura, who
pontificates on everything from gardening to writing to her views
on the purpose of fiction, is a small, painfully funny work of
comic brilliance that nevertheless manages to convey poignant
In the end, LAURA RIDER’S MASTERPIECE is exactly that ---
a slim, riotous comic masterpiece that will both surprise and
delight Hamilton’s many readers.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on December 30, 2010
Laura Rider’s Masterpiece