|Of the scores of Red Dress Ink authors, Karen Templeton is one of my few auto-buys. I appreciate her heroines, who have more depth and maturity than most fashion- drinking- and man-obsessed Chick Lit characters. She’s funny and wry without resorting to slapstick. And she has retained enough of her romance author roots that the cynicism is kept to a minimum. Unfortunately, Hanging by a Thread isn’t the author at her absolute best. The raw materials for a strong story are there, along with positive messages about being true to yourself, but the novel itself is just too darn long, and there’s a certain “ick” factor about the heroine’s romantic relationship that can’t be ignored.
Twenty-six-year old single mom Ellie Levine reminds herself daily that she has achieved her ultimate goal by working in Manhattan. Well, hasn’t she? Sure, she is just an assistant to a second-rate fashion designer, and the long commute from Queens means she doesn’t see much of her precocious 5-year old daughter Starr, but she has good health benefits and she has broken away from her Richmond Hill neighborhood’s traditional ethnic roots – at least from 9 to 5. She’s fortunate to have the help of her grandfather Leo to take care of Starr while she works. Additional support comes from the Scardinares, neighbors she’s known since childhood, and from her best friend Tina who is married to one of the Scardinare sons, Luke. So why isn’t she happier?
Well for one thing she’s tired of being put in the middle of Tina and Luke’s marital problems. Now Tina is pregnant but miserable, and Ellie is asked to keep a secret that she knows will devastate Luke. Then, just as greater professional success seems to be within her grasp, a tragedy forces Ellie back to Queens, where more family surprises and her own long-held silence about Starr’s unnamed father bubble up to the surface. As Ellie tries to determine what she wants out of life personally and professionally, she realizes that lies and secrets may sometimes be justified – but the lies that we tell ourselves can cause the most damage.
Ellie’s first-person narrative is chatty and engaging. She addresses the reader so directly that you wouldn’t be surprised if she jumped out of the pages and grabbed you to make sure you were paying attention. A short, curvaceous woman with a distinct fashion style (I have no idea who the skinny redhead on the cover is supposed to represent, but it sure isn’t Ellie), she’s as fiercely loyal to her family and friends as she is conflicted about admitting and pursuing her true dreams. She resembles Ginger Petrocelli, the heroine of Templeton’s previous RDI novel, Loose Screws (in fact, Ginger makes a cameo appearance in Ellie’s life) but without quite the same propensity for disaster.
I just wish there were either a little bit less of the novel or a little more action. Four hundred pages is a long time to spend with a woman trying to make up her mind, and while the secondary characters are all well-drawn, the narrative’s pace is too leisurely, especially in the first half. Unlike my page-turning experience with Screws, it was too easy to put Hanging by a Thread down.
The complicated relationship among Ellie, Luke and Tina is problematic as well. I’ve never liked the “best friends in love with the same man” plot; one of the main rules of Girl Power is “thou shalt never encroach on thy best friend’s guy.” Templeton makes a valiant effort to justify Ellie’s feelings, explain the reasons Luke responded to Tina’s neediness instead of Ellie’s independence and emphasize how the three finally realize their mistakes without breaking anyone’s heart, but there’s still something creepy about Ellie’s happy-ever-after involving a man about whom her best friend has already divulged lovemaking habits.
It’s a long, bumpy road to happiness for Ellie, and while I lost interest occasionally during her journey I was still happy to see her reach the destination. Templeton remains a favorite for the discerning Chick Lit reader who likes down-to-earth, funny but warm-hearted heroines.