Eat Cake

Julie & Romeo

Step-Ball-Change

 
Julie and Romeo Get Lucky
by Jeanne Ray
(Pocket, $22.00, PG) ISBN 1-416-50969-0
***
Jeanne Ray returns with a sequel to her debut hit Julie and Romeo with another helping of what she does best: a funny story of a harried mother trying to cope with a houseful of relatives, not all of them well-behaved or even lovable. Three years after they’ve met, Julie Roseman and Romeo Cacciamani are still in love, though still living in separate households. Julie’s house is filled with her daughter, Sandy, Sandy’s husband, Tony (a Cacciamani), and Sandy’s two kids. One of the kids, Sarah, is obsessed with “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and plays the videotape of the movie six times a day. She’s also obsessed with lottery tickets, driving everyone in the house slightly batty.

Romeo’s situation isn’t much better. His house is filled with his 93-year-old mother, his son and daughter-in-law, and their kids. Needless to say, Romeo and Julie rarely get a private moment together, and when they finally do find themselves unexpectedly alone in Julie’s house, disaster strikes. Romeo attempts to carry Julie up the stairs, and in doing so, hurts his back to the point where he’s flat in bed for weeks – in Julie’s bedroom.

Things go from bad to worse when Nora, Julie’s self-absorbed, career-minded daughter becomes pregnant with triplets and is put on bed rest. Where better to rest than in her mother’s living room? And the surprises don’t end there.

Under Ray’s sure hand, Julie’s story is wise, witty, and endearing, if somewhat exasperating. There are some truly funny interludes, though, such as the scene in which Julie hides in her own bedroom closet rather than face Romeo’s half-demented mother, who has been brought to visit her son and thinks he’s in the hospital. (“They let cats in this hospital? What kind of place is this?”) The character of Father Al, a priest and good friend of Romeo’s, adds a touch of humor and sensibility. And Julie and Romeo are at their best when they’re together, as their interplay clearly shows a couple that adore one another and their families, though those families aren’t always adorable.

Perhaps my tolerance for the “lunatics running the asylum” aspect of Ray’s stories is wearing a little thin, but Julie has more than just a veneer of “doormat” to her character this time around. It’s one thing to have relatives who drive you nuts, but letting them get away with it over and over, all in the name of being a loving mother, is a bit much. Nora, who moves in without asking, takes over the downstairs floor of the house, and starts demanding that her mother wait on her hand and foot with health foods and Pellegrino, is particularly obnoxious and never gets the set-down she deserves. As for the kid, Sarah, well, she only drives everyone crazy with the Willy Wonka thing because they let her, making it hard to sympathize with the adults. Where’s a little parental authority when you need it? I doubt anyone ever ended up on the Dr. Phil show because their mother once said, “Turn that thing off, and if you’re going to cry about it, go to your room.”

The ending is a bit tidy, (let’s call it deus ex lotterina) but it does wrap things up nicely. There is room for another book about Julie and Romeo, should the author decide to continue their journey. Personally, I’d love to see where their next adventure takes them. Married, one would hope.

Fans of Jeanne Ray’s earlier books will probably find much to like in Julie and Romeo Get Lucky. Wisdom, heart, and some laughs thrown in for good measure are a winning combination for a summer’s afternoon.

--Cathy Sova


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