|Barbara Bretton can always be counted on for an intelligent, thoughtful yet wry Women’s Fiction read. Someone Like You isn’t her most notable effort but you really can’t go wrong with this veteran author.
For a short time in the 1960s, Mimi and Mark Doyle were famous folk singers who rivaled Dylan and Baez. Their love-at-first-sight meeting and hasty marriage only strengthened their mystique. But by the time Mark walked out the door “during the Carter administration” and never returned, the fame and fortune were long gone and Mimi was left alone to raise 10 year old Catherine and toddler Joely. Unfortunately the emotionally fragile Mimi devoted all of her time and energy to pining away for Mark, leaving the girls to fend for themselves in their grandmother’s rapidly deteriorating house in coastal Maine.
Almost thirty years later, Cat designs and creates knitwear that is featured on a popular Sex and the City-type television show. She still lives in Maine where she dutifully watches over Mimi, traveling to New York City monthly to deliver her latest creation and see her lover Michael. Joely, on the other hand, has left Maine behind in grief and anger. A successful engineer with advanced degrees, she has the spent the past six years living in Scotland with her lover William and his young daughter Annabelle. The two Doyle girls have wonderful men in their lives, yet they keep their hearts closely guarded, afraid to love the way Mimi did with such disastrous results.
The two women are approaching pivotal moments in their romantic relationships, yet they refuse to admit that anything has changed. Cat is pregnant, the result of a carefully planned conception, but has no plans to move in with Michael or deepen their relationship. Joely has grown to love Annabelle as her own daughter but is afraid to address the growing emotional chasm between herself and William. When Mimi is hospitalized after suffering a severe stroke, Joely reluctantly returns home to Maine. Together the Doyle girls explore their family history and ties they have denied for so long, and realize it’s time to choose between fear, anger and love.
The character development in Someone Like You is subtle and the plot is somewhat sparse. There is no search for Mr. Right; both likeable female protagonists are already in relationships when the story begins, and they both easily acknowledge that they’ve been fortunate to find two decent guys. Neither is there a reconciliation between estranged sisters; Cat and Joely love each other and accept that they’ve chosen different paths and responses to their unconventional upbringing. The novel focuses more on how the women change internally as they finally come to terms with their less than ideal parenting, begin to heal wounds that have festered for decades, and reach out emotionally to their men. As Joely notes, Mr. Spock found it easier to admit to human feelings than they do (although Spock didn’t have chocolate to turn to when things got rough; it’s easy to identify with the Doyles’ frantic search for chocolate whenever they’re stressed out). While Bretton largely avoids melodrama, she also deprives the reader of a compelling reason to keep turning the pages until the last 50 pages, when past and present converge in a surprising way.
The secondary characters are well-drawn but not memorable, with the exception of the obligatory gay male friend. The fact that Cat and Joely are the children of two folk singer icons is also underdeveloped until the book’s second half, which provides Bretton with an opportunity to show the entertainment media in their full conscienceless frenzy. The bottom line is that Someone Like You is something like classic Bretton, but not quite.