Author: Ann McMan
Publisher: Bedazzled Ink Publishing Company
At the risk of sounding like a bad karaoke version of John Mellencamp, I was born in a small town. Because of that, I have a special place in my squishy twitchy little dyke heart for small towns and the people that live there.
Don't get me wrong, as a card-carrying lesbian; I'll be the first to admit that wide-open spaces almost always give way to narrow minds.
|The Public Square|
Even in the 21st Century, popular images of small town America are based on stereotypes of rural farming villages. And, whether correct or not, stereotypes exist because of convention, formula, and common conception. The stereotypical small town has been defined by the well-known and familiar written and cinematic forms of Mayberry [The Andy Griffith Show], Bedford Falls [It’s a Wonderful Life/The Greatest Gift], and Maycomb [To Kill a Mockingbird].
Sometimes, however, stereotypes hit the mark - just replace the horse and buggy from the photo above with a Ford F-150 pickup truck, and this small town today looks just like it did back in the 1940s.
Still, every place has something that defines it. New York City has the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, Broadway, and Ground Zero. Chicago has the Sears Tower, Wrigley Field, the Billy Goat Tavern, and the El. Seattle has Pike Place Market, Queen Anne Boulevard, REI, and the Space Needle. Carlsbad, NM has the Project Gnome, it's expansive caverns, and it's own natty underground transuranic waste disposal site. Even stereotypical small towns have things that define them. In mine, it is the Moravian church, the water tower, the "Y", the flat-roofed grade school, and the bricks of the old up-town.
Jericho is the feisty debut novel by author Ann McMan. Librarian Syd Murphy’s life has hit a series of speed bumps, and she takes an eighteen-month position establishing a new library in the small mountain town of Jericho, Virginia. The spunky, petite blonde’s plan makes sense, a new town, a new job, and a whole lot of time to figure out her future. Before she ever sets foot in Jericho, though, the tall, dark-haired, and valiant Maddie Stevenson and her trusty steed, Pete the Golden Retriever, rescue her.
Maddie is an enigma to Syd and most of the residents of Jerico. Educated at Stanford, med school at Penn, and former Assistant ER Chief at Penn Presbyterian, she is one of the locals, but an outsider as well. Maddie spent a large portion of her youth in Jericho, and returned to take over her father’s medical practice after his sudden death two years earlier. Outside of her close friends, David and Michael, Maddie focuses on work and keeps mostly to herself.
However, Syd is a force to be reckoned with – she is sweet, kind, beautiful, smart, irresistible, and has a wicked sense of humor that keeps Maddie on her toes. The two women form a fast friendship, but almost immediately begin to secretly struggle with their mutual attraction. And, if that’s not enough, Syd is straight and going through a divorce, and Maddie somehow forgets to mention her sexuality to her new best friend. Almost everyone who sees these two women together believes it’s only a matter of time until they figure it out. However, even in a bucolic setting like Jericho, things can lurch wildly out of control before you realize anything is happening.
Who among us has not spent many an hour wandering happily through The Royal Academy of Bards? Well, truth be told, probably a few of us have missed out, but not many. I know that early on in my Lesfic reading career it was a constant source of stories, inspiration, and information on up and coming authors, as well as established authors that I couldn't find in print. So, it goes without saying that I was intrigued and a bit giddy to learn that Ann McMan's Jericho was 2011's number one vote getter for The Royal Academy of Bards Hall of Fame.
As a friend from graduate school once said, "Them's some pretty big shoes to fill." She also said, "Them's not spats, them's my thigh highs", but I rarely get a chance to use that wonderfully rich little one-liner.
Jericho is not a quick little love story, it's a fully-involved romance novel clocking in at over 400 well-written, well-conceived pages. From it's opening paragraph, the reader is greeted with rich detail, flowing internal dialogue, witty humor, jagged verbal jousting, and a joyous intellectual tete-a-tete.
The story is based on the simple and familiar premise of straight girl meets gay girl, and after an angsty battle of push and pull, realizes she's not really straight after all. What makes Jericho stand apart from the rest of the pack is the depth of Ms. McMan's main characters, the full flight of supporting characters, and the fresh set of twists and turns along the way.
I'll readily admit that I'm always a bit leery of "love at first sight", and I'm pretty sure that Syd and Maddie didn't fall in love over the flat tire. However, the quirky thing is that my brain wanted them together, even before the natural blonde in the front seat was introduced. The more I think about it, as the reader, my observations and inclinations were very much in synch with the friends, family, and town folks that witnessed Syd and Maddie together. I love how the author is able to illicit that response in me.
I find it refreshing to see two women who have an immediate attraction take their time to pursue friendship, figure out what it is they are really feeling, war with themselves over what they want verses what is the right thing to do, and eventually have the guts to put everything they hold sacred on the line to win the girl. There was a huge risk that the story could have veered off into the land of buttercream icing and chocolate sprinkles, but it didn't. I appreciate the author's vision and patience with the relationship between these two main characters, and its supporting role within the story as a whole.
There are several wonderful and dynamic supporting characters within Jericho. The fabulous David and Michael are wonderful gays that are both stereotypical and unique. I love that both men play significant roles in the lives of Maddie and Syd, but have lives and minds of their own. Roma Jean is both a Godsend and comic relief. Syd's parents offer support, wisdom, and humor, and her brother wouldn't turn down the opportunity to be a rival for Maddie's affections. Lizzy Mayes adds a delightful little nugget of jealousy into the mix. Celine adds edge and unexpected depth in the end. Pete is handsome, goofy, and loyal to a fault. And, lastly, Jericho itself is a wonderful character through its townspeople, architecture, beautiful mountain vistas, and hidden secrets.
If you are a traditionalist and love a good, old-fashioned lesbian romantic swoon, then Jericho is a must have for your collection. The characters are memorable, the dialogue is fresh and feisty, and the plot is somehow both familiar and all brand spanking new. Ms. McMan throws in snappy shout outs to literature, classical music, local wines, and even small engine repair. There's a beautiful love story, joyous friendships, high drama, a doped-up bad guy, barbecue, and a little old lady with a squirrel gun.
In other words, a little somethin' somethin' for every taste.
Ann McMan's Jericho enchanted me from the opening page until I sat the book down wondering when I'd get the opportunity to read it again. This author and her story are not to be missed if you love a good romance with memorable characters and smart dialogue. I'm giving it a high and tight 5.1 out of 6 on the Rainbow Scale, and letting it be known right now that I am anxiously tapping my foot, barely maintaining my composure, as I wait to see what Ms. McMan can come up with for an encore.