By Lee Gooden, Independent Reviewer and free lance journalist.
In Elizabeth Kerr’s novel The Spin, her main character Madeleine Dreiser refers to herself as a full-figured woman like Mae West. The Spin is a small book but also full-figured. Its tight prose and quick chapters accent and enhance all of its mystery and shapely curves like a form-fitting skirt. The Spin begins when Madeleine, the owner and operator of a laundromat becomes suspicious of the attire and activities of some of her odd acting male customers. Her friend and confidant Cody, a newspaper carrier, offers his aid and expertise in “staking out” and spying on the customers. His caveat; she needs to help him deliver his papers on his long and complicated route in his beloved car Betty.
Torn between her smoldering romantic feelings for Cody and the maternalistic duty and guilt she feels for her drunken long-term boyfriend Jerry, Madeleine warily takes Cody up on his offer. She receives a crash course in espionage and newspaper delivery. Like the novel’s title, Madeleine’s life spins and twists out of control. All sorts of situations and characters enter her hapless orbit, including, but not limited to; a thieving drug dealing employee; a suspicious cop; burglars; a stalker; an enigmatic cat; a murderer and possibly dangerous and nefariously plotting, foreign spies.
Re-reading The Spin, something about the banter and interactions between Kerr’s main characters, Madeleine and Cody struck a familiar chord in me. No matter how hard I searched my mental files, I couldn’t put my finger on it. Later, while grocery shopping, I shared the plot of The Spin and some of its clever and tantalizing narrative and dialogue with my wife. As she pushed the cart down the canned goods aisle, I walked next to her and read to her the following passage that describes Madeleine’s deeper understanding of how a man’s choice of undergarments define him. Kerr writes,” and those who went “commando”…well they didn’t bear thinking about. On second thought, she did like the look. Her mind traveled onto styles of BVD’s. There were those tight-fitting briefs and then there were boxer shorts…It was more of a macho thing to wear briefs. She tried to imagine a Hell’s Angel in boxers; no, they were the kind of guys who went commando. She shuddered to think of all the blisters they must have from riding with nothing but a seam between themselves and their bikes.”
My wife’s laughter was contagious. I had to move out of mainstream grocery store traffic because in response to her snort laughter, I was doubled over in my own brays. I stepped into the niche of a closed and unoccupied check out aisle and saw a picture of the actor Michael Douglas on the cover of a gossip newspaper. Then it hit me. The dynamics between Madeleine and Cody reminded me of the word play and chemistry that Kathleen Turner as Joan Wilder and Michael Douglas as Jack T Colton had in the 1984 romantic/comedy/adventure movie: “Romancing the Stone”.
I was a young sixteen going on seventeen in 1984 and for a short time I was part of the weekend cleaning crew at the local cinema, which allowed me to view movies for free. I watched “Romancing the Stone” repeatedly, and I must admit obsessively. I had just experienced my first real relationship and it did not end well. I was in love with being in love. I thought romance movies like “Romancing the Stone”, television shows like “Hart to Hart” and the character situations in pop music were what I had to strive for. I thought they were true representations of people in love and in a relationship. In my erroneous belief, I set myself up for failure. I imagined myself as Jack T. Colton, Richard Dreyfus’s Elliot Garfield in Neil Simon’s “The Goodbye Girl” and Robin Williams as T.S. Garp in the movie based on John Irving’s novel The World According to Garp. I “fell” in love with the Hollywood fabrication of love.
Somewhere, in my reluctant growth and the painful journey to maturity, and one disastrous relationship after another, I lost interest in romantic comedies. With despair, I grudgingly realized that they falsely portrayed functional and loving relationships. The bar was raised too high and too unrealistic. But, “Romancing the Stone”, and on a lesser scale, its sequel, “The Jewel of the Nile” remain core in the swirling never-ending nebula of pop culture and intelligentsia influences that make me me. I can easily imagine, Kerr’s Madeleine and Cody saying the following lines from “Romancing the Stone”:
JOAN WILDER: You’re the best time I’ve ever had.
JACK T. COLTON: I’ve never been anybody’s best time.
In The Spin, Madeleine and Cody are each others best time. Kerr masterly allows us, the readers to not only eavesdrop on that “best time”, but also experience and live it. She does for romance and adventure what Stephen King did for the horror story. She removes it from some distant and foreign exotic locale and Americanizes it. She puts it in our backyards, near our chaise lounges and barbecue grills. She adds hamburgers and hotdogs with an ice-cold beer without losing the flavor of intrigue and mystery. This makes it all the more real for our pining and hopeful hearts.
–Lee Gooden 3/23/16
By Mari Selby on January 31, 2016
“The Spin” is the mystery novel that makes you laugh out loud, while wanting more of the twists and turns the author offers. The mystery takes place in the Charlottesville, Virginia area, the regional details will satisfy anyone who loves Virginia. And the story proves that Virginia is definitely for lovers!
By Noisette on April 14, 2016
Format: Kindle Edition
This is a good read (I bought the paperback). I enjoyed the way the author describes the activities and emotions of the central character, Madeleine. The interaction between Madeleine and Cody, the newspaper delivery guy, is really well done. It was fun reading about the workings of both a laundromat and the delivery of newspapers, really intricate. But behind the daily (& nightly) activities & routine and the romance, the story goes deep and it really did keep me wondering what was going to happen. Really unusual and very satisfying mystery.