Book Review: Crossed Wires, by Rosy Thornton

Back in May I received an email with perhaps the most enticing subject line for an avid reader: “May I send you a book?” I had been wading through several review obligations and was already experiencing rapid detachment from this blog, but still, I was intrigued. The sender was author Rosy Thornton, and she asked if I would accept and review her third book, Crossed Wires. A quick Google search led me to Thornton’s website, where I found this self-assessment : I write contemporary fiction of a kind you might call romantic comedy with a hint of satire – or possibly social satire with a hint of romance. Or in fact just novels, really. I found her brief bio very charming, and was further encouraged by the book’s synopsis: An old-fashioned fairy tale of love across the class divide, it is also a book about the small joys and tribulations of parenthood; about one-ness and two-ness; about symmetry and coincidence; about the things which separate us and the things which bring us together. I wrote back that I would love the chance to read her book!

I’ve seen Crossed Wires mentioned frequently online as a “romance” novel, which throws all kinds of red flags in my direction. I, as a general and very personal rule, don’t favor “romance” novels. And I’ll admit, it’s mostly because there is enough sexual content in that genre to make me (a moderate prude) uncomfortable. I just don’t go “there” with my reading. But I’m not sure I get the association of Crossed Wires with romance novels – it’s romantic, yes, but also very heartfelt and gentle and demure. There’s no heaving or sighing or blush-worthy euphemisms here. (note: Yes, I know those are generalizations of the romance genre, much like “fantasty” evokes thoughts of unicorns and “sci-fi” brings to mind aliens. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just saying it happens, and yes, I’m guilty of eliminating an entire genre from my reading because of assumptions. My prerogative, I guess.) I think what might further complicate someone’s first impression of this book is the bathed-in-pink cover. Reading this beside the pool one day, I truly wondered what kind of book people thought I was reading!
I’ll tell you what kind of book I was reading: Crossed Wires is a smart, incredibly well-written story about two people lost in the circumstances of their lives. Each has suffered because of events outside their control, and are only now at the point in their lives when they are ready to take some kind of step towards consciously determining their future.
Peter is a widowed father of young twins, Mina is a single mother of one. They meet by chance over the phone when Peter calls in an accident claim on his auto insurance, and bit by bit they begin to relate to each other more personally, and more often. The novel follows each of them individually, fleshing them out as solid, interesting characters. But it’s when they come together over the phone that you can see where the one fills the void in the other.
The extended family and friends who populate Peter’s and Mina’s lives are interesting as well. I don’t feel like anyone is given less than their due here, unless maybe you consider Mina’s sister Jess. She’s hardly present during most of the book, but even her character (and her absence) have a lot to do with Mina’s inner workings.
I also loved the *very* English-ness of this book! There was a great feel for location here, from the different class struggles and social norms to the regular taking of tea and the daily particularities of life in an English village. I understand that this probably reveals how little I’ve traveled and how impressed I am by the simplest things of foreign things, but I have to include it because it was an element of my reading experience.
I really enjoyed this book, most particularly because of the excellent writing. I felt the mood was so carefully and preciously created, and the characters truly breathed and occupied physical space. I would say that the one challenge to the pace of the novel is that it unfolds in almost real time, and because of that wouldn’t necessarily qualify as a “page turner” for most readers. It’s character-driven for sure, with very little action and in fact almost incremental change for the characters between the beginning and ending of the book. Sometimes in life, though, it’s the smallest shifts we make in our perspective – and in our hearts – that make the greatest difference. I think that’s certainly one of the beautiful truths of this novel.
Book Details:
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Headline Review (April 2, 2009)