|Laurie Gwen Shapiro’s sophomore effort for Red Dress Ink is a vast disappointment after last year’s entertaining Matzo Ball Heiress. Anglophile suffers from severe lack of narrative drive; the author sets up a plot premise but then lets it drop, leaving the amiable characters to flounder without a story for large sections of the novel.
Shari Diamond has worshipped all things British since the age of 9 when she fell in love with both Christopher Robin and Oliver Twist. Unfortunately it’s a long way from Queens, New York to England, especially for a lower-middle-class girl, and Shari has had to get her Anglophile fix by watching Brideshead Revisited re-runs on TV. Visiting Chicago twenty-five years later, Shari meets the bloke of her dreams. Kit Brown went to Trinity and Cambridge, has a brother named Nigel, and is graced with the slightly pasty complexion that Shari adores. It’s not until the first afterglow that Shari learns that Kit is in Chicago for the same linguistics conference she is attending – and that he’s just beaten her in the race to find the last-known speaker of an obscure, near-extinct language.
The problem with the book is that this situation doesn’t turn out to be much of a problem (the back cover blurb notwithstanding). Shari is shocked and humiliated, but then she recovers and invites Kit back to New York with her. There’s a nice Jewish boyfriend that Shari doesn’t love, but he’s dispatched with quickly as well. Then Shari and Kit are free to meet her kooky Jewish relatives, whom Kit finds charming, and travel to England to see the sights Shari has dreamed of for years. The only real conflict occurs in the last 50 pages, when a Big Misunderstanding separates the happy couple until it’s almost too late.
Kit and Shari’s adventures on both continents are moderately amusing but they don’t move the plot forward. The scenes set in England read more like a travelogue than a novel (although I did linger on every word when Shari and Kit take the Beatles tour and end up on the famous Abbey Road crosswalk). Most of the book’s action takes place over the course of several weeks, but the climactic last 10 pages occur almost a year later, glossing over several events that might have enriched the story.
Shapiro could have been a little more careful with her facts as well. Shari is supposed to be a linguist but she can’t even accurately name the pretend language on the kids’ show Zoom (it’s “ubbi dubbi,” not “ubba dubba”). And you don’t have to be an Jewish scholar to know the difference between the Kiddush, or prayer over wine, and Kaddish, the prayer for the dead. Mixing up the two would be like putting up a Christmas tree at Easter.
The talkative Jew and the reticent Brit are both likeable characters, but Shapiro seems to be so enamored of the couple that she can’t bear to let any real conflict simmer between them for more than two or three pages. While that may the hallmark of a splendid relationship in real life, it doesn’t make a compelling novel.