By Eileen O’Connor
<A few years ago, when Justin Timberlake was filming in Rye, a friend said to me: “Imagine if we bumped into him in town.” And then she continued: “Imagine if he fell for one of us or just an everyday mom doing everyday things.” We laughed about how crazy that would be.>
Annabel Monaghan’s first foray into adult fiction, “Nora Goes Off Script”, brings a spectacular version of this daydream to life. A 39-year-old single mom trying to figure out how to keep her home and family afloat after her husband leaves, Nora writes for the Romance Channel and admittedly has the formula down pat. She gets the joke: “My superpower is methodically placing a man and woman in the same shiny town, populated by unusually happy people with maddeningly small problems. They bristle at first and then fall in love.”
But when she writes a script based on her failed marriage, Hollywood’s ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ is cast as her husband and filming takes place at her 100-year-old home, the ordinary meets the extraordinary as an unexpected and multi-layered love story unfurls.
Simply put, Nora — the character and the book — is delightful. She’s thoughtful and kind, funny and fun. She is keenly observant, cares deeply about and appreciates the people and the beauty around her – from the sun that rises “differently every day” to Mr. Mapleton who owns the local hardware store. She has all the qualities you’d hope for in a good friend. And as you would wish for a good friend, you want the best for her, you want to know she will be okay, and whatever happens you won’t want to leave her at the end.
The book is not unlike one of those Russian Matryoshka dolls – stories within stories, a play within a screenplay, a real romance wrapped up in a fictionalized version of a loveless marriage. Monaghan’s superpower as a writer, in addition to her facility with language, dialogue, and descriptive phrases is her ability to thread the big things — all of life’s joy, wonder, and inevitable losses — through the tapestry of everyday life. Sure, Hollywood’s leading man may be camped out in her backyard as a whirlwind romance plays out on the front porch, but Nora still has chickens to roast, bills to pay, and kids that need to be places at the same time.
Some of my favorite parts of this romantic comedy have nothing to do with the romance – they are the very real questions with which we all wrestle: What’s for dinner? How are we going to make the play and that meeting? How do we keep our kids happy, confident, and content when so often it feels like everything is working against us?
These are the truths Nora wrestles with, but they are also the topics Monaghan has invited us to mull over in her “Along for the Rye’d” column in this paper. For the past decade, the author has held up a mirror allowing us to see more clearly the mundane, the magical, the hilarious, and heartbreaking details that make up our days. She has encouraged us to laugh, to cry, and to commiserate along with her; and now she has created a character that invites us to do the same.
We locals are fortunate to have had first dibs on Monaghan’s brilliance. The early out-of-the-park accolades “Nora” has received are not surprising. We have all known and relished Annabel’s writing and insights for years. Now it’s time for Rye to share, to celebrate, and to cheer her – and Nora — along with the rest of the world.