Judith Arnold lives in a blessedly gimmick-free universe. No quirky plot devices, no revolutionary narrative structures, just stories of interesting people falling in love. Heart on the Line is another delightful effort from this talented author, marred only by an unnecessarily drawn-out ending.
Loretta D’Angelo and Josh Kaplan meet on the Long Island Railroad. She’s returning to New York City after attending a gathering of her large Italian family, most of whom are dentists, and all of whom are concerned that she’s 29 years old and unmarried. He’s returning to the Big Apple after dutifully mowing his widowed Jewish mother’s lawn. They bond over their mutual annoyance at a fellow traveler’s obnoxious cell phone behavior and then go their separate ways, but not before Loretta suggests that Josh might be a good guest for the syndicated talk show she helps produce. Before long, they’ve forged a strong friendship with the understanding that romance is not an option. After all, Loretta is proud of her independence, and Josh has a girlfriend, even if she recently moved to Florida and Josh isn’t sure how much he misses her. But when Loretta convinces Josh to appear on her show as her alleged blind date, they start to look at each other in a new way.
Arnold excels at telling stories about ordinary people – no ditzy heiresses or tormented former mercenaries – who are lucky enough to find the right person in a way that could (but so rarely does) happen in real life. Loretta and Josh are smart, funny and sexy in a very human way. Their ethnic backgrounds, while important elements of their characters, never limit them. They communicate well, until the inevitable happens, and even then there’s no sulking or pouting. Arnold clearly shows the progression from attraction to genuine love through good chemistry, sparkling dialogue and shared history (especially a shared history of unforgettably bad experiences, such as a musical comedy about singing cadavers).
The story’s secondary characters give it depth and keep it from feeling like an extended category novel. Loretta’s co-workers are intriguing, as is Josh’s girlfriend, who never descends into typical Other Woman bitchiness. But most notable are the regulars at the senior citizens center that Josh frequents. They’re colorful without stooping to that “wacky old coot” stereotype that appears in far too many novels.
Heart on the Line is also a valentine to the people and places of New York City. Arnold celebrates the Big Apple’s diversity and unexpected beauty, and when the scene shifts briefly to Florida, its heat and palm trees pale in comparison. Put this book together with Arnold’s previous release, Love in Bloom’s, and you have a case for the NYC Chamber of Commerce to hire Arnold as a public relations expert.
After a gentle but steady progression, the novel falters in its last 100 pages, after Loretta and Josh finally submit to their attraction. Arnold inexplicably tosses in an excruciatingly long separation followed by a rushed reconciliation. The novel would have benefited from one of those tender epilogues that show the couple blissfully enjoying life together – I wanted to spend a little more time with them.
But those are minor quibbles. The novel’s back cover promises a “roller-coaster ride of romance” but I don’t think that’s an accurate assessment. Heart on the Line is more like a horse-drawn carriage ride through Judith Arnold’s beloved Central Park – enchantingly charming, and perfect for any occasion.