Patricia Rice's latest contemporary is a sweet, slightly overstuffed confection, similar to a Cadbury Creme Egg. If you like sweet and rich, you may savor Impossible Dreams. Unfortunately, although I'm a chocoholic, my tastes run more to plain chocolate. So while I thought the novel was acceptable, it didn't suit my particular appetite.
Maya Alyssum moved to a small North Carolina town to care for Matty, her 5-year old nephew, when her older sister Cleo was sent to prison for drug-related charges. She half-heartedly runs the curio store that Cleo left behind. But her personal dream is to start a school where kids from the foster care system will feel special and loved -- important qualities that Maya missed as she grew up as a foster child. Meanwhile, she runs an after-school program and tries not to think about what will happen when she gives birth to the baby she is carrying, the product of an ill-advised relationship with an unreliable musician.
Stuffed-shirt businessman Axell Holm confronts Maya at the store and insists that she drop her plans for the school. The property Maya is leasing is directly in the path of the thoroughfare to a new shopping center, and the town's mayor doesn't want any obstacles to economic development. Axell is ambivalent -- as a business owner, he's all in favor of progress, but his daughter Constance attends Maya's after-school program, and her enthusiasm about the program is the only positive reaction Axell has had from the 8-year
old girl since her mother died in a car accident.
Once Axell involves himself with Maya, he becomes thoroughly entangled. Someone wants to run Maya out of town on a rail and she soon becomes homeless, forced to rely on Axell's hospitality. Then the practical and emotionally-challenged Axell comes up with the perfect solution that will keep Constance happy while also providing Maya and Matty a permanent roof over their heads. Yes, folks, it's the good old marriage of convenience. And the fun is just beginning.
Impossible Dreams isn't impossible to like. Patricia Rice writes with sweet, gentle humor and a genuine affection for her lead characters. The link between Maya and Axell's relationship, and another star-crossed relationship that occurred more than 50 years ago, is intriguingly hinted at through snippets of first person narrative at the end of each chapter.
But my enjoyment was hindered by Patricia Rice's style, which tends to be excessive. She doesn't hint where she can proclaim, and she never repeats an idea less than three or four times. How many times does the reader have to hear that Axell considers himself a failure at relationships and an emotional cripple? How many times do we have to be told that Maya's free spirit persona hides an insecure, lonely woman who has never truly been loved? Those are all worthy themes, but Rice hits the reader over the head with them instead of letting them emerge gradually and gracefully.
This busy novel also packs in too many subplots, some of which remain woefully underdeveloped. The secondary characters, particularly the two children, suffer as a result. Both Matty's and Constance's problems, which seem extremely urgent as the novel unfolds, fade into the background and then virtually disappear. Similarly, the father of Maya's unborn child shows up and threatens to make trouble, but then
vanishes without any fanfare.
The "free spirit" heroine has never been my favorite character. Unlike Axell, I just couldn't relate to a ditzy, illogical gypsy who is constantly analyzing people by their zodiac signs. Her frequent leaps of logic were annoying rather than charming. So I never fully invested myself in her search for happiness.
Like the bumper sticker sayings that preface each chapter ("Out of my mind. Be back in five minutes." "I used to have a handle on life, but it broke."), Impossible Dreams is cute and entertaining. But for me it was not a keeper.