Happy Birthday Nancy Tobin
by Lillian Grant
Happy Birthday, Nancy Tobin opens with a 39 year-old Nancy a week before her fortieth birthday. From the get-go, we see the trials of Nancy’s life; a loveless marriage to a heartless husband, a job working in a university library for a woman who treats her like crap, and a poor self-image. Worried that her best years are behind her, Nancy encapsulates a person who faces midlife in crisis mode.
Enter Jake, a handsome, young, part-time university student who shows interest in Nancy. Through jaded lenses, Nancy tries to construct every reason why Jake couldn’t possibly be interested in her, until he finally breaks down her defenses and gets her to open up and allow him in.
Once she does, the old Nancy, the one who has allowed her husband to openly cheat on her with another woman, the Nancy who has put up with shabby treatment from her boss, the Nancy who would never dream that a hot 26 year-old hunk could want her, disappears. Instead, a new Nancy reveals herself. One who is going to live her life, no longer willing to see it as half-over. What follows is a series of events which represent a bold do-over, each choice and experience helping to show her that 40 is just the beginning, not the beginning of the end.
Lillian Grant has crafted a story which kept me riveted from the first page. Writing with a smooth narrative, she also captures human emotion and struggle with a subtlety that allowed me to journey with Nancy. The doubts, questions, and fears that go along with approaching mid-life are handled with sensitivity and humor as Nancy faces the aspects of her life which have left her flat.
What I enjoyed about this book is how Ms. Grant has managed to capture the depth and range of human emotion, while keeping her story tightly centered around the central plot. The love scenes are filled with physicality, but coupled with an emotional punch as Nancy moves from self-doubt, wondering why a younger man would want her, to acceptance and enjoyment.
The story took it’s time getting to the actual sex, allowing the reader to enjoy the slow development of Nancy and Jake’s relationship. The typical pattern of bringing the two main characters together in a steaming sexual encounter within the first few chapters has been tossed aside, leaving the reader with a simmering romance which slowly heats until it boils over. I for one appreciated the opportunity to enjoy the small aspects that make for a truly lasting and loving relationship.
Nancy sheds one doubt after another, faces challenges with courage. If that isn’t enough to make for a terrific read, Ms. Grant never lets up, maintaining a degree of tension until the very end, creating an eleventh hour twist, threatening the new happiness which seemed just in reach.
When a book has me laughing, angry, and routing for the main character to come out the winner in the end, I find I am terrifically satisfied. Ms. Grant has delivered a story which delivers on all counts: craft, conflict, and one hell of a great story. If you haven’t read Happy Birthday Nancy Tobin, you must, and I am sure you will recommend it to others once you have finished.