As I read the e-mails that comprise Wanderlust, I realized how well Meg Cabot carried off the concept in her recent book, The Boy Next Door. Chris Dyer attempts the same process with much less successful results in her debut novel. Wanderlust is notable for the fact that the commitment-shy heroine has not one, but two worthwhile suitors, but it never rises above the mildly entertaining level.
Through the aforementioned e-mails, we follow the wanderings of Kate Bogart, peripatetic travel reporter for an unnamed New York newspaper, from Lisbon to London, Amsterdam, Paris and several American cities. Along the way, she meets former war correspondent Miles Maxwell, a friend of her editor, who is immediately smitten with her. Although Kate’s first impression of Maxwell is that he is a “dry crumpet,” she is impressed by his charm and has a surprisingly good time with him in Rome. But lurking in the background is Jack MacTavish, Kate’s ex-husband. Although they have just commemorated the two year anniversary of their divorce, Kate and Jack are still good friends. Their differences doomed their marriage - Jack leads wilderness expeditions and likes communing with nature, while Kate’s travel agenda includes only the finest accommodations - but their mutual attraction is still very much alive. While Jack starts pushing Kate to give their relationship a second chance, Kate tries to sort out her feelings for Maxwell.
She’s fortunate to have the support of her mother Rose, a modern woman who cheerfully advises Kate to enjoy both lovers, and her best friend and dedicated cat-sitter Violet, who is devoted to her husband Shane and his rock group, the Killer Abs. So is there a happy ending for Kate with one of her suitors, or is she doomed to have endless affairs with Portuguese bullfighters named Paolo instead? And would that be such a terrible fate?
Wanderlust starts slowly but picks up steam about halfway through when Kate’s love triangle gets tangled up in an pleasantly unpredictable way. Until that point, I was pulled out of the story numerous times. I kept wondering, who are these people? Did they step out of a Noel Coward play? Who the heck has a mother who takes a bet on how long her daughter will keep her futile vow of chastity? What kind of 21st century man writes e-mails like he is Rudyard Kipling? I know this is fiction, but it is difficult to identify with characters who bear only a vague resemblance to genuine human beings. It’s easy to envy Kate, but harder to care about a woman who gets paid to travel around the world and stay in luxurious hotels, occasionally writing an article or two (which the readers never see). My sympathies were with the rivals for her affection, who are both thoroughly delightful, even if Jack is a bit of an airhead (who can’t spell his way out of a paper bag) and Maxwell is a bit of a stuffed shirt.
Using e-mails to tell the story keeps the pace brisk, but the e-mails themselves lack the comic timing and punch of Cabot’s book. In fact, the end result of reading Wanderlust was to send me back to The Boy Next Door to remind myself how Cabot executed the same idea so much more effectively. Granted, in many ways the independent Kate is a stronger leading lady than Cabot’s country-girl-in-the-big-city heroine, but when the interactions between Jack and Maxwell are more interesting than those between either guy and Kate, the author is not accomplishing her goals.
Wanderlust is recommended for die-hard Chick Lit readers, those who are weary of desperate-for-love heroines - and those who like a tinge of homo-eroticism in their romances.