The distinction between romance and women’s literary fiction can be summed up fairly succinctly.
Romantic fiction centers around the couple’s relationship and typically there’s a pursuit that leads to a happy ending. Women’s fiction centers around relationships, not just romantic ones, but those between key women as well.
Susan Mallery knows this distinction well. The first entry in her latest serial, The Girls of Mischief Bay, is fresh and engaging. While there’s more than a smidgen of romance, the storylines center around the transitions of life and the development of the characters.
Nicole, Shannon and Pam are at different stages of their lives and have forged a friendship through their love of Pilates. Nicole owns the Pilates studio where Pam and Shannon work out. Their stories are woven together seamlessly.
Their casual friendship is nuanced. Its depths are tested as the women work through the crisis we call life. Their relationships are natural, not forced. It appears right when the women step into breaches that family members don’t even seem to realize exist.
Nicole’s young marriage is crumbling as she and her husband stand watching from the sidelines. The tension between them is all too realistic and familiar. Pam’s 30-year union with John looks and feels like a long-term marriage, but their journey is gut-wrenching. Shannon is a career woman with a ticking biological clock who stumbles into love and has to fight her instinct to flee.
The writing is strong. Mallery has a knack for creating idyllic communities, and Mischief Bay doesn’t disappoint. Readers familiar with her stories will recognize her pattern of developing small towns with a strong sense of community where people help one another.
There’s no Mayor Marsha, like in Fool’s Gold, orchestrating behind the scenes, but Mallery does introduce a group that helps fledgling female entrepreneurs and gives hints that it’s reminiscent of the mayor’s machinations.
Before she even introduces the group, Mallery lays the groundwork by establishing a quasi-mentoring relationship between Pam and Nicole. The older woman helped her husband in the early years of his business and shares that knowledge with Nicole.
There’s a generational subtext that mirrors reality and the complexities of adult relationships.
Nicole, whose mother is dead, admits that there are times she views Pam and John as parental figures. For Pam and Shannon, there’s more of a sisterly bond, with Pam being the older sister.
The dialogue, between the women especially, is genuine and believable —as is the cast of supporting characters that fills out the story. Shannon’s relationship with divorced dad Adam and his two children will likely resonate with readers who have crafted families after divorce. It’s rich with the tensions and joys that can occur, especially when children are involved.
This is women’s fiction and not romance, so the ending is bittersweet. But it’s also filled with promise of a new serial that’s worth following.
The Girls of Mischief Bay
by Susan Mallery
Audiobook: Brilliance Audio, $14.99; read by author and veteran narrator Tanya Eby.