Commitments by Carmen Green
(Arabesque, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN: 0-7860-0558-0
****
It's hard to believe that only two years have passed since the publication of Carmen Green's first novel, Now or Never. Her bittersweet love story of two people who meet in a cemetery mourning the loss of loved ones quickly earned her a spot on my "Emerging Authors" list. Commitments is her fifth published work. She is continues to expand her range and introduce new approaches into her work.

Commitments is the story of Fox ("Don't call me 'Foxy.'") Giovanni, the newly appointed vice-president of securities and investments for Fields, Inc. Fox has been with the New York-based firm for 11 years, working her way up from the mail room. She doesn't just like her work, she's addicted to it. "I work. I wake up with the sole purpose of going to work. I go to sleep with the sole purpose of waking up and going back to work. I work weekends and holidays because I'm dedicated," she says.

At a party to announce her promotion, 28-year-old Fox Giovanni suffers a heart attack. "Being sick," says Fox, is dangerously unproductive." A woman who is anxious to make president by 35, must now consider what she must do just to make 35. A lifestyle change for the workaholic is a must. But her doctor's first order is that she "get a life." He demands that she take at least six weeks off from work

Fox can't begin to imagine what to do with that much time away from Fields. Until the heart attack, her job was her life. Fox has no family or friends. No one has ever made a long-term commitment to her except for her job. Fox's heart bears emotional scars that will take longer to heal than those caused by the heart attack.

Given up as a young child by parents who couldn't take care of her, Fox grew up in a series of ambivalent foster homes. She was warehoused in the state foster care system after she was labeled a problem and never adopted. When she was 12, she was taken in by Willow who loved and nurtured Fox until the bureaucracy stepped in and removed her from Willow's home. As a result, Fox is fiercely independent and avoids letting anyone get close because she is afraid they will leave her.

Fox knows Willow loves her unconditionally. Although she and Willow exchange holiday cards, they haven't seen each other in quite sometime. Fox decides to ask Willow if she can recuperate at her farm in Slumber, North Carolina.

Fox's recuperation hits a snag when she locks horns with Willow's nephew, Van Compton. Their first encounter is via telephone. The battle lines are drawn before Fox leaves New York. Van is annoyed that yet another one of Willow's grown former foster children have come to take advantage of his aunt's generosity . . . and she's a "city girl" like his ex-wife. The battle escalates as soon as Fox arrives in Slumber and the verbal sparring begins.

Van is ashamed of himself when he learns of Fox's condition and realizes that she's unlikely to run off with his aunt's silverware. He responds to her vulnerability and insecurities. Only Van can make offering a woman candy an exercise in seduction and a lesson on life and love. "You've got to savor it, take it slow, enjoy the pleasure it gives you. When you rush, you miss the tiny ingredients that make it delicious. You know what I mean?" After he offers her two chocolate kisses the Hershey kind she spends the better part of the night thinking about the encounter before wishing "she'd taken the damned chocolate."

The bantering between the two main characters is crisp and realistic. The author's interesting use of pacing adds to the tone of the story. The scenes in New York are quick and hurried, while the North Carolina portions of the story move at a slower pace, reflecting Fox's transition from city to rural life. Green offers subtle descriptions of small town life. Only in the sleepy town of Slumber can a New Yorker become a tourist attraction as six suitors, young and old, come bearing flowers. One proposes on the spot.

Carmen Green's fans will be interested to note that unlike her other novels, Commitments is not set in Georgia, the author's home base. What is constant in this novel is her focus on families and the interdependence of each member. It is a hard lesson for Fox, who has never had a constant family experience, to learn. "Love is," explains Van, "a feeling, a commitment between two people." Green illustrates how many of us learn and practice love through the family unit.

If you're looking for a pleasant story about love and taking time to smell the flowers, I recommend Commitments.

--Gwendolyn Osorne


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