The Trouble With Mary
by Millie Criswell, contemporary (2001)
Ivy, $6.50, ISBN 0-8041-1950-3


Let me say that The Trouble With Mary is pretty good. It has lots of warmth and fun and humor, although it's a bit off in that the warmth and fun emanate more from the secondary characters than the main characters.

Mary Russo's self-confidence is pretty much down the toilet, thanks to a mother who keeps harping on everything Mary does, especially her weight. When Mary's dear Uncle Luigi killed himself for reasons unknown, Mary gets his restaurant. She gets an idea - why not continue the Italian food business? Mama Sophia is born - whet your Italian food cravings here!

Dan Gallagher, sports columnist turned reluctant food critic, hates Italian food. Naturally, he gives the restaurant a scathing review, to which Mary sees red. She'll get the Mafia, and Dan will die! Okay, not die, but she gives Dan a piece of her mind, and Dan falls in lust with that big mind (yeah, definitely mind, ahem) of hers. He brings his troubled son to get closer to her - or do they call that parent-child quality time nowadays? - and they skirt timidly around each other.

That's it. For the next two hundred or so pages, these two spend what seem like reams and reams of words on paper commiserating about their sad love life, their sad and pathetic sex life, and why they really, really can't marry each other. Like a balloon pricked with a pin, the initial sexual tension and all deflate in a great pfffftttt with the pace starts to plod and go around in a pity-you-pity-me circle.

But never fear, the secondary characters are here, from Mary's friend Annie (her book is next) to Grandma Flora to even Mary's mother, to make things interesting. When our two planks of a main character are surrounded by them, they actually say witty things to each other, and it's like watching a nice, big happy family event.

I'm afraid Mary and Dan are too fluffy and rather one-dimensional characters to carry this story. The Trouble With Mary is pretty entertaining, but it just doesn't stick to my mind either.

Rating: 78


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