An Abundant Woman
by Elizabeth Neff Walker
(Belgrave House, $12.00, R) ISBN 0-9660643-7-2
****
You'll probably find An Abundant Woman shelved with Contemporary Fiction. Don't let the booksellers fool you. This is as lovely a contemporary romance as you're likely to find this year, one worth searching out.

Forty-something Dr. Amanda Potter is about to leave her comfortable English lifestyle and her pleasant, if distant, husband and embark upon a six-month medical exchange in Madison, Wisconsin. Mandy is a licensed OB-GYN with a particular interest in medical research into prenatal care issues. Her marriage is at a stalemate and her slimy boss would be delighted to sabotage her career for good, so this sabbatical offers her a chance to re-evaluate her life.

Upon arrival in Madison, Mandy finds herself rooming in an old Victorian house with several other medical types. There are her landlords, Cliff and Angel; a perky housekeeper named Sherry; and most of all, there's Dr. Jack Hunter, a recently-divorced pediatric neurosurgeon. Jack is depressed but alive to his emotions. Mandy is alive to the world around her but her emotions have been put on hold for so long that she's not sure if she can feel anything anymore.

Mandy's confidence in her skills as a doctor exists in contrast to her insecurities about her looks. She blames her pudgy physique for her husband's disinterest in sex, an enforced celibacy which has gone on for years. She is immediately attracted to Jack and he to her, but before they can do anything about it, Mandy will need to overcome her shyness about her body and begin to trust Jack. Their journey together makes a lovely story.

Yes, there is adultery in this book, in the strictest sense, though Mandy is portrayed as a woman of honor. Her marriage has been dead for years. She and her husband have been holding on for convenience and for the sake of their now-grown daughter; were it not for this sabbatical, it's likely they would never get off dead center. Jack will force Mandy to examine her life and reach out for some future happiness, even as she brings life into his rather bleak world.

I really enjoyed this book; in fact, I read it in one sitting. The first-person narrative gives readers ample opportunity to understand Mandy's life and motivations, and Jack is presented as a flesh-and-blood hero, one with a few warts. The secondary characters add their own interesting quirks. You'll enjoy your stay at Mayfield House. And the adultery, a plot element that I'm not usually comfortable with, was just fine in the context of this story. The necessary growth and changes in the lives of these people can't happen without it.

I was slightly uncomfortable with some of Mandy's dialogue. At times it felt as though the author was using her characters as a personal soapbox. Mandy expounds on the use of Prozac, genetic research into obesity, treatment of clinical depression, etc. Perhaps it was meant to provide Mandy with some depth, but I was far more interested in what she would do about her life.

All in all, An Abundant Woman is a lovely read, one that will reinforce the message that women are not meant to look like cover models, but rather as normal, healthy, sexual beings in all sorts of packages. Mandy's journey to acceptance of herself could belong to any one of us. I was glad to travel with her.

--Cathy Sova


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