Reviewed by: Carrie Byrd
Review posted: 6/25/04
This is the first book I’ve read from Harlequin’s relatively new Red Dress Ink imprint. It was a pleasant surprise. If this novel is any indication, Red Dress Dress Ink’s future is bright. Moving away from the romance publisher’s trademark throw away paperbacks, Spitting Feathers walks that fine line between romance and the fast-growing “chicklit” genre.
Tao Tandy, the main character is a young woman who is rebelling against her hippie mother by living the most traditional life possible. When she begins to have doubts about the life she’s chosen, she quits her job at the bank, splits from her traditional fiancé and takes a photography course. We meet Tao just as she finishes her course, and sets off to make her way in the world.
In an attempt to escape from her temporary residence at her best friend Sophie’s apartment, Tao takes a job pet-sitting an unusual African Grey Parrot. The circumstances surrounding the job are as unusual as the animal, and Tao inevitably finds herself in the midst of the requisite wacky hijinks. The handsome gardener, the celebrity chef, and the shady but good-hearted landlord all play a role in Tao’s new life, even as she struggles to figure out what role she is playing.
Tao’s story is very relatable. She is searching for her place in the world, trying to find her niche and find a balance between her untraditional upbringing and her longing to fit in. Tao is a flawed character, and readers may find themselves shaking their heads over her actions from time to time. At the same time, however, her flaws make her likable. She is not stupid or selfish. She makes mistakes, but for the most part she is able and willing to admit to them, and does her best to make amends. In this way, I found Tao to be one of the best characters to come out of the so-called chicklit genre. Many of the portrayals of women in these books seem to suggest that the current generation is selfish and greedy; wanting everything for nothing. Conversely the other option seems to be that they are doormats to be walked over, making me cringe with each encounter (I’m looking at you, Bridget Jones). They all seem to lack personal responsibility. With the turning of each page they dig themselves in deeper and deeper until you’re practically crawling under your chair, wanting to escape, but unable to look away at the same time.
Tao breaks away from these two common characterizations. She is very human, and with each stumbling block she encountered, I found myself cheering her on, hoping for her to successfully defeat it. Rather than wincing at the troubles she faced, I sympathized. We’ve all encountered the snotty secretary. We’ve all had to deal with the consequences of a bad first impression. That too charming to resist, even though we have our misgivings man? Familiar. Doing something we know we shouldn’t with the best intentions? Who hasn’t been there? Tao is someone we know, and someone we like. Therefore, she is also someone we are cheering for. We want her to get the guy. We want her to succeed in her job. We want her to beat the bad guy. Every character plays their roles to perfection. Harte deftly avoids creating caricatures instead of characters, and creates a sympathetic and entertaining cast.
The only real flaw with this novel is how much Harte tries to do in a relatively short span. We meet so many new characters it is hard to know which ones will be important later on. Tao’s struggle to come to terms with what is going on around her is exacerbated by the sheer number of things happening. She doesn’t just get to be torn between her job and her career and two men that she likes and maybe more than likes and also possibly one of them is a gigolo and possibly one or both of them are in relationships and also there is a crime that she has to solve so she doesn’t get into trouble only solving it might make things worse and now her mom is coming to visit and so on and so forth until things seem completely out of control. In some ways this simply carries out the stories relevance to real life. The saying “it never rains but it pours” became a cliché because it was true. So while the sheer business of the novel might seem overwhelming, it also seems familiar. Life can be overwhelming.
Harte has constructed an excellent novel. Readers who approach romance novels with caution would probably enjoy Spitting Feathers. Romance is not the primary focus of the novel, but rather it feels like the icing on the cake.