‘Isn’t It Romantic? An Entertainment’ by Ron Hansen

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Fiction – paperback; Harper Perennial; 208 pages; 2004.

Isn’t It Romantic? An Entertainment is the literary equivalent of a light romantic comedy, probably with Jennifer Anniston and Ben Affleck in the lead roles.

I read it on the strength of Ron Hansen’s Mariette in Ecstasy, which I devoured — and loved — last month, but this book could not be more different in temperament, tone and subject matter.

It’s a delightfully quick, frothy read. The Chicago Tribune describes it as “A literary bonbon as sweet and light as meringue” which is pretty much a pitch-perfect summary. Although Isn’t It Romantic? An Entertainment feels contrived in places — with a light dusting of barely-there schmaltz — it’s a fun romp, and I raced through it in just four 20-minute tube journeys.

It opens with French tourist Natalie Clairvaux taking a solo bus trip across America. When her playboy fiancé, Pierre Smith, tracks her down the pair inadvertently become stranded in small town Nebraska. Here, the locals invite them to be king and queen of an annual three-day festival in which the town’s founder, a 19th-century trapper from Bordeaux, is honoured.

What ensues is a bit of a French farce in which Natalie is wooed by a 50-something rancher and Pierre is pursued by the attractive young waitress from the local diner. And when the town conspires to hold a wedding for the couple, no one is quite sure exactly which couple will walk down the aisle.

As silly as the plot sounds, there are quite a lot of laugh-out-loud moments in this book. And Hansen writes with such a deft hand, you can picture the scenes unravelling right before your very eyes. Indeed, the book would make a terrific film because it could so very easily be adapted into a screenplay. In fact, I’m surprised Hollywood hasn’t optioned it already — or maybe someone’s just waiting for Jennifer Anniston and Ben Affleck to become available, in which case I’d suggest you just hang out for the DVD…

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