(Reviewed by Peggy Lindsey AUG 01, 2002)
Reading Kathleen DeMarco's Cranberry Queen was a good reminder that I shouldn't judge books by their covers. I admit it. I saw a book with a young woman running in a cranberry-colored skirt on the cover and blurbs on the back describing the main character as "a thirty-something professional in New York City [who] is brooding ...about her ex-boyfriend's beautiful new girlfriend" and has "Bridget-Jones style neuroses," and I figured this book was simply an American version of the Bridget Jones' Diary/Confessions of a Shopaholic/Bad Heir Day genre in which reasonably attractive, well-educated, single twenty and thirty-somethings profess deep insecurities about panty lines/thigh size/biological clocks the size of Big Ben and struggle with addictions to cigarettes/alcohol/sale tables, yet manage to achieve spectacular success in both career and romance by the end of the novel. Fair enough. I'm not thrilled that such books tend to imply that the ultimate happy ending requires a man, but I admit that such novels are quick, funny reads. So Cranberry Queen with its American setting-mostly New Jersey-will be Helen Fielding meets Janet Evanovich, right? Okay, I'll bite.
And the first chapter is as expected. We meet Diana Moore as she mentally steels herself to attend a wedding alone where she knows she will see her ex-boyfriend (a.k.a the Monster) with his new girlfriend. Diana definitely does have some Bridget Jones-like neuroses about her appearance: she describes herself as "brown of hair, nine of shoe, and wide of thigh," and worries that Foxhole Girl-her true self-will be forever buried under her public persona of The Smiling Idiot. But, oh my, Cranberry Queen quickly becomes so very much more than an escapist romp through the trials and tribulations of single career girl life. POW! Chapter Two: Diana's parents and her brother, Ben, en route to dinner with Ben's fiance, are killed by a drunk driver. Suddenly who's with who at a wedding doesn't matter squat.
Understandably, Diana has trouble coping: "I don't believe this is my life," she explains. "I was a chosen child; I was pretty and resourceful and sweet. My mother and I talked on the telephone every day....I am alone. I am a-lone. I-Am-A-lone." She has friends and extended family offering help, but they treat her too gently. Around them, there's no way to forget what has happened. In desperation, she packs an overnight bag and just starts driving in an attempt to do, to be something: "I am an Adult, a Survivor, a Driver, a Person on a Trip." Unfortunately, the scenery of the New Jersey countryside distracts her and (oh, the irony) in attempting to escape the reality of her family's accident, she's in an accident herself. Luckily, this one has no serious injuries, but it's enough to strand her for a few days while her car is repaired. Diana grasps the opportunity-a new place where no one knows her or knows of her grief: "I consider myself, stranded here with strangers. Diana Moore, orphan. Diana Moore, dumped girlfriend. Diana Moore, lunatic in need of a Depression Profressional.... But here. Here everything is different. Here I can be Diana Moore, a blank slate."
So this book is not about a woman in quest of finding a man who will love her despite her quirks and neuroses, but rather about a woman forced to find herself after the people who helped form who she was her entire life are gone. It's about figuring out where to find hope in world that's become completely hopeless. It's about being on your own-really and truly on your own-at a time in your life when most people's independence is still being supported by the family safety net.
Admittedly, some of the healing processes DeMarco puts Diana through are a bit predictable-big city dweller finding solace in nature, for example, has been done before. But it works here, in large part because it's clear that DeMarco truly knows and loves the countryside she's put Diana in. Although at times, her descriptions of southern New Jersey's undiscovered pastoral bliss move dangerously close to a travel and tourism brochure-we learn exactly why New Jersey is called the Garden State-they're also vivid enough to make a believable balm to soothe Diana's psychic chaos. And DeMarco's descriptions of Diana's grief made more difficult by well-meaning friends are necessary reading for anyone who's ever been frustrated trying to understand a grieving person who needs, but can't ask for help.
So despite some surface commonalities with the Bridget Jones set, Diana Moore is no English rose in search of her prince. Sure, she wishes at times she had that British stiff upper lip to get her through the hell she's in, but she's a post-9/11 American through and through-certainly proud and a little goofy, perhaps a bit adolescent at times, but incapable of being knocked down for long. If you've ever needed to be reminded not just that life goes on, but why it should, Cranberry Queen can help.
- Amazon readers rating: from 62 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Cranberry Queen at MostlyFiction.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
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- The official Web site for Kathleen DeMarco
- Reading Group guide for Cranberry Queen
- Trenton Downtowner review of Cranberry Queen
- BookReporter.com review of Cranberry Queen
- RipSaw review of Cranberry Queen
- BookReporter.com review of The Difference Between You and Me
- Reading Group Guide for The Difference Between You and Me
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About the Author:
Kathleen DeMarco grew up on a cranberry farm in New Jersey's Pine Barrens but eventually landed in Manhattan. Now the consummate New Yorker, she runs a production company, Lower East Side Films, together with actor-comic John Leguizamo.Kathleen DeMarco, 36, is John Leguizamo's producing partner at Lower East Side Films. Together they have produced JOE THE KING (a 1999 Trimark Films release), PIÑERO (a 2001 Miramax movie starring Benjamin Bratt) and the HBO special SEXAHOLIX. They are also currently producing projects for Fox Searchlight, ABC/Hallmark,and HBO. Her first novel is currently under option by Miramax Films, and DeMarco is writing the screenplay.
"I worked with so many screenwriters, and I remember someone saying to me, 'You don't -understand what I'm doing because you're not a writer,"' DeMarco recalls. So she wrote Cranberry Queen in 10 weeks and then optioned the film rights to Miramax.