Claire Cook, author of the popular “Must Love Dogs” series of delightful novels, once again displays her trademark humor and superb plot and character development in her latest entry in the equally entertaining “Wildwater Walking Club” series, “Step by Step.”
For the uninitiated, we should explain that the Club is comprised of three women who have developed the happy habit of taking walks together, walks which afford each of them the opportunity to vent, to discuss their personal problems, to opine about their places in the world, and to share their trials and tribulations with the assurance that sympathetic ears are close by and listening. Each of the women — Noreen, Tess, and Rosie — is quick, bright, and often pretty darn messed-up.
In “Step by Step,” Noreen is the primary object of our attention. She has left her long-time job upon accepting a generous buyout which guarantees her financial stability for eighteen months. She has decided to become a health-and-fitness coach, working independently, with plenty of time to develop a thriving new business.
Problem number one is that building such a business is far more difficult and confusing than she had imagined. But problem number two is both far more confusing and far more significant in her quest for personal happiness. It’s the love problem. Her love (and her lover) is Rick, who, like Noreen, is struggling to find a new direction in his life. He’s sensitive, artistic, smart, attractive, and sometimes very difficult to understand and accept. So Noreen, who is quite aware that she is also sometimes not quite herself an angel, begins to question if they are really a good fit. So does Rick. They argue, they separate, they both meet potential new love interests — or so it seems to Noreen — and they are both caught in embarrassing situations. To complicate matters even further, they are both too stubborn and proud to admit that they are acting self-destructively, selfishly, even childishly. Especially Noreen.
Her life, in fact, seems to be falling apart; she is bitter and depressed. Even her walking partners seem unwilling or unable to put up with her. But here is where Claire Cook’s remarkable talents for character-building and character development assert themselves. Through all of Noreen’s destructive behaviors and misadventures, Cook again displays her uncanny ability to make us laugh and to still love Noreen. And even as the character herself works on the tortuous path toward self-knowledge, Noreen never abandons her own sense of self-deprecatory humor, and all the other characters likewise consistently demonstrate their own abilities at quick rejoinders and witty perceptions.
So Noreen eventually does find the best of herself as she fully realizes her own shortcomings and learns how to deal with them, gain back a generous measure of self-respect, and win back the person she loves and the friends she needs. “Step by Step” is a terrific character study, a lesson in the power of positive and honest self-reflection, and, of course, a wise and laugh-provoking look at our human foibles. Claire Cook strikes again.
Review by Jack Kramer
First reviewed on Bookreporter.com.