Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Remedy for Love by Bill Roorbach

Eric, an upright lawyer, meets disheveled Danielle in the check-out line where she doesn’t have enough money to pay for her groceries in the latest novel from critically acclaimed, yet relatively unknown, author Bill Roorbach.

“Idly, Eric watched her unload her cart: he knew her situation too well. Sooner or later she’d be in trouble, either victim or perpetrator, and sooner or later he or one of seven other local lawyers would be called upon to defend her, or whomever had hurt her, a distasteful task in a world in which no social problem was addressed till it was a disaster, no compensation.  Ten years before, new at the game, he might have had some sympathy, but he’d been burned repeatedly.”

Despite his lack of compassion, Eric reluctantly chips in for her oranges, carrots, cans of baked beans, tortilla chips, Pop-tarts, freshly ground coffee, two boxes of wine, a big bottle of Advil, six boxes of generic mac and cheese, and oodles of packages of ramen noodles and both leave the store.

“A huge snowstorm was predicted, first big snow of the season, the inaugural flakes desultorily falling, some kind of unusual confluence of low-pressure and high-pressure and rogue systems, lots of blather on the radio as if a little snow were nuclear warfare or an asteroid bearing down.  Eric liked his old Ford Explorer at times like this, even though (as Alison always said) it was a gas pig.  He put his groceries in the back, if you could call them groceries, and swung out and across the glazed lot – last week’s ice storm – and there was the young woman, staggering and limping under that mountain of a coat but making determined progress, her seven plastic bags hanging from her arms like dead animals.  Eric pulled up beside her but she didn’t stop walking, didn’t look.

“I can give you a lift,” he called.

“Okay,” she said to his surprise, still without looking. He’d expected her to demur in some proud way.”

After driving over six miles Eric helps Danielle walk to a cabin at the end of a narrow, steep path aside a river -- a 30-minute trudge from the highway where Eric’s Explorer gets towed while he’s helping her.  He returns to the cabin and the two end up snowbound.

Quickly Eric’s check-out line prediction returned to this reader’s mind and caused me to wonder if Danielle is a social problem that should have been addressed or if she’s simply alone and isolated as Eric himself is even with all his resources.  Eric wants to rescue Danielle yet she soon learns that he hasn’t done all that well at rescuing himself and still hasn’t admitted that his long separation from his wife is real and would probably soon become permanent.

As these two lonely people slowly reveal themselves while the storm rages, Roorbach is at his best sharing their stories in refreshingly unexpected ways. He conveys their secrets not as stark “ah-hahs” but as sighing, believable manifestations. His depictions aren’t just plausible, they’re funny. Eric and Danielle reminded me of Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in “It Happened One Night,” a movie that’s a classic comedy because its humor both disarms and involves the viewer. Hapless, stranded Eric’s and Danielle’s sexual attraction is simultaneously erotic and witty and that, my friends, is a recipe for an endearing romance that’s as appealing today as is the 1934 Oscar winner.

And the storm, oh the storm -- Roorbach’s descriptions could serve as a textbook for aspiring writers as he artfully depicts the blizzard’s torment:  

“Outside the storm was howling, a different kind of snow altogether, curtains of it blowing, already drifted to knee-deep in sculpted ridges along the ground, coming so thick and furious it was as if legions of dump trucks were emptying their loads in his face, in the world’s face, misery:  the jostling wind, the river coursing black below.”

"Something hit the roof with a thud.  Then something else, and again, and then there was a roaring like unstopping surf and bigger, jostling thumps and then cracks like lightning straight above and something crashing toward them, rumbling louder and louder inside the howling, a tsunami approaching.  Suddenly the cabin heaved on its moorings with a deep moan and squeal.”

“Then silence, then odd sighs from the woodwork, then a creaking that turned into a growling, like a creature in the yard, something that wanted to get in.”

Later: “The wind had died down.  The cabin had ceased its complaining.”

This comedic, yet sultry, sexy romance of a tale complete with engrossingly real survival scenes and shimmering prose ultimately becomes an ode to life and love. That two unlikely specimens could stumble upon each other (and themselves) during the latest “storm of the century” is enough to make anyone believe in the power of love. This is definitely on the short list for the best book I’ve read this year.

Summing it Up: Roorbach weaves equal parts survival adventure, poignant romance, slapstick comedy, and brilliantly evoked nature scenes into a colorful tapestry that will entice the most cynical reader.  It was tough for me to even think about doing anything but reading this in one sitting. 

Note: The Remedy for Love has just been named a finalist for the Kirkus Prize for nonfiction.

Rating: 5 stars   
Category: Grandma’s Pot Roast/Gourmet, Five Stars, Fiction, Book Club
Publication date: October 14, 2014
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