Okay, I love Jennifer Crusie. She's welcome for dinner at my house whenever she wants to come. I love her books and share them with everybody all of the time. I would love to write half as well... to do anything half as well. For my two cents, in the contemporary romantic fiction genre, she is without parallel. Totally in a class by herself.
That being said, this book is NOT contemporary romantic fiction. It's contemporary science fiction. And hey, I'm all for branching out and trying new things. Totally. How else do we learn? Grow? Evolve? I get that. Respect it, even.
Now, if anybody else in the world had written this book other than Jennifer Crusie... I'd still have thought it was marginal. At best. I laughed a couple of times, but the story as a whole didn't capture me, and I didn't find it terribly satisfying. But Jennifer Crusie DID write this book. Jennifer, my favorite modern writer period, branched out. Tried something new. Attempted to grow and evolve. And... as such, I admire her further... but not enough entirely to like this book.
And I don't dislike it because it doesn't follow Crusie's broadly drawn yet terribly enthralling and effective romantic formula of boy-meets-girl, boy-and-girl-fight-constantly, boy-and-girl-survive-through-myriad-impossible-challenges, boy-and-girl-decide-to-stop-fighting-and-have-lots-of-enthusiastic-sex. I don't dislike it for lacking ANY of the basic Crusie hallmarks (the eccentric best friend... the dog... the career... the maverick, beauty-impaired main character). Crusie is a talented writer, and she has many tools in her arsenal, too many to rely on stock. I don't dislike it because it's not, primarily, modern romantic fiction. I don't dislike it because it's science fiction, even.
I dislike it because it utterly lacks depth.
Crusie's modern romantic fiction stories have amazing depth in a genre not known, generally, for its finely tuned characterization or commentary on social imperfections and ramifications. They are really, truly stories, if stories where people wind up "deshabille" near the end. But the characters, especially in her novels near the beginning of this decade, were whole people made from whole cloth, and they had histories, proclivities, desires, and motivations that she crafted so brilliantly it was possible to SEE the people AS people in my mind. They lived and breathed, laughed and loved... they even murdered with a conviction that was possible to understand from the impeccible complexity of the story so completely supporting them.
This book doesn't do that.
There is Andie. She's okay, funny, spunky, etc.etc.etc., but she seems to have sprung, fully formed, like Cupid off of Venus' head, no history, no context, and not a whole lot of investment. Same with her cypher ex husband, the ostensible savior of the story. The children in this creepy tale are dysfunctional in the extreme and pretty hard to like, even by the end (What a lost opportunity for Crusie to explore some depth, as these characters came out of her brain onto a silver platter; she could have done something momentous in this story with them -- but didn't -- and WHY are they they way they are? What do they have to SAY about why they are the way they are? What do they really want? Let them scream for themselves, and not just idly).
I don't know. This book reads more like a first novel than the upteenth novel from a celebrated artist; I hope in all sincerity that Crusie's not going back to the beginning to conquer another genre. She doesn't have to. But if this is her latest, maybe she does have to start at the beginning? Anyway, yes, I gave it two stars for sheer inventiveness of the story (the house itself merits a star) and another for the fact that I did, to be honest, laugh out loud a couple of times. Neither factor wholly redeems the book, but perhaps Crusie's upcoming book, Trust Me on This, will show what this immensely talented writer really can do.