Loose Screws should be subtitled Red Dress Ink Finally Gets It Right. Well-written, warm-hearted and funny, Karen Templeton’s latest is an example of Chick Lit at its best. The book certainly passed my “can’t-put-down” test. I haven’t snuck a book into work for a long time, but I found myself furtively reading a chapter here and there at my desk. At home I resorted to claiming that I had a headache (sorry, husband and kids) so I could go to bed early and finish the last hundred pages.
There’s nothing revolutionary about the plot or structure of the novel. We meet narrator Ginger Petrocelli only hours after she has been stood up at the altar by her seemingly perfect fiancé Greg, wealthy son of a Republican Congressman. While downing an entire bottle of what was supposed to be her wedding champagne, Ginger is visited by a policeman investigating Greg’s disappearance. Much to her surprise, the cop is none other than Nick Wojowodski, who relieved Ginger of her innocence ten years ago at her cousin Paula’s wedding (in a closet, no less). He offers a very belated apology for never calling her, awkwardly tries to comfort her and leaves. But Ginger hasn’t seen the last of the man she calls “the Virginator.”
Meanwhile, Ginger finds that being jilted isn’t the only landmine she is going to encounter during the long, hot New York summer. She loses her job as an interior designer when her boss is murdered (thankfully Ginger does NOT become an amateur sleuth). The rent-controlled apartment she has sublet for years is pulled out from under her when the owner suddenly returns. And after leaving an apology on her answering machine, Greg re-surfaces in person, begging for a second chance.
Thankfully Ginger has the support of her two best friends: suburban wife and mother Shelby, and twice-divorced workaholic Terrie. Whether she wants it or not, she also has the support of her mother Nedra, a major source of embarrassment who “sucks the life force out of anyone who is unfortunate enough to find himself or herself within a city block of her.”
Without stretching any of the genre’s conventions, Templeton creates a delightful heroine in 31-year-old Ginger, who bends but doesn’t break with each new disaster. She’s funny and insightful as she tries to define herself and her dreams. After a lifetime of trying to prove she is not like her mother, she realizes that there is much to admire about Nedra (“a woman who redefines the word ‘free radical’”), even if she did make a habit throughout Ginger’s childhood of taking in strays and getting arrested for picketing. And in navigating her relationship with Nick and Greg, Ginger learns that safe and easy doesn’t always mean the best choice.
Loose Screws also presents a realistic but affectionate portrait of New York City, and from Templeton’s dedication it’s clear she feels close ties to her former home. Whether it’s Bloomingdale’s, Brooklyn or Morningside Heights, she nails the Big Apple’s attitude and atmosphere.
With an ugly but personable dog thrown into the mixture, Loose Screws is reminiscent of Jennifer Crusie’s work, perhaps crossed with a bit of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum for good measure. It’s definitely the best Red Dress Ink I’ve read to date. From the perfect cover picture of a peeved bride to the novel’s epilogue, there’s barely a wrong note in the entire package. I had heard good things about Templeton’s category romances, and for the first time in months I feel the need to check out an author’s backlist.