We’ve done small town California, small town Oregon, small town Tennessee, and even small town England, but Restricted Reading has sorely neglected the northeast. And if you’re going analyze romantic aspirations in the northeast, why not go to the north-est and east-est place in the continental US? Drop your “r”s, girls and boys: we’re headed to Maine, where lobsters are big business, retro diners are the only game in town, and men of God are dangerously attractive.
Type: Contemporary adult romantic comedy.
The couple: Maggie Beaumont is in her early 30s and has never really left her very small hometown of Gideon’s Cove, ME (population 1,407). She dated the local baseball star, inherited her grandfather’s diner, sees her best friend/twin sister almost daily, and is unapologetically looking for someone to spend her life with. She eventually shifts her gaze toward Malone, a local lobsterman who is the strong, VERY silent type. Malone is charming in his way, but he doesn’t really speak for the first 100 pages, and doesn’t say much even after that. Honestly, one could be forgiven for assuming Father Tim O’Halloran is one of the leads in Catch of the Day. He gets more time in the story than Malone, especially early on, but it’s a red herring. If he’d ended up being part of Maggie’s happy ever after, this would have been a different story. If he’d ended up being a part of Malone’s happy ever after, this would have been a very different story.
Tropes: Wildly successful author Kristan Higgins has her very own set of tropes, and they’re all here: small town, dog as woman’s best friend, meddling but lovable family, external conflict among secondary characters, and an odd but charming affinity for elderly people.
The story: Maggie has stumbled upon her third-of-life crisis. She’s a near-perfect diner owner, sister, and neighbor, and her proclivity toward accidentally embarrassing herself provides the town some much-needed entertainment. Maggie is happy, but she wants to get married and have children and realizes that to do that, she’s going to need to expand her romantic interests beyond the local Catholic priest. Along comes the tall, dark, and handsome Malone, who has subtlety come to her rescue a few times, but who is so quiet and gruff that it’s hard to deduce his level of interest. Maggie decides to try to find out, and in the process publicly humiliates herself a few more times. But she’s charming and good-humored, and it all works out. That’s a spoiler I guess, but only if you’re new to the concept of romance novels.
How’s the sex? Absent, actually. Romance novels are known for sex scenes, and especially for the use of sex-part synonyms like “nub”, “button”, and “knot”. If you don’t know which sex-part I’m referencing, the bad news is that your tenth grade health teacher has failed you, but the good news is that you won’t be confused by this book; Higgins doesn’t bother with any of that. Readers know when the main characters are having sex, but the exact details of who touches who where and in what position are left to the imagination. The story as a whole is well rounded enough that nothing seems missing, and if you’re looking for something more graphic, ask your local librarian for erotica recommendations.
Is this book for you? Catch of the Day, originally published in 2007, is cozy and makes for an excellent, low-stakes, rainy day reading. It’s really more Maggie’s story than Malone’s, and I think the tension of a limited point of view is more fun. We’re never exactly sure what Malone is thinking, but we can piece together that he likes Maggie, and he really is trying to be less surly.
Kristan Higgins has written a lot of funny, engaging books, and her greatest strength is in writing single women in the way they want to be perceived. Maggie is fun, open-minded, awkward and imperfect, but with a sense of humor about her imperfections, as well as a firm belief that they make her better and more interesting. She doesn’t regret her decisions or wish she’d done anything differently, but she still isn’t quite in the place she wants to be, and she’s not quite sure why. We never get the impression that there’s anything wrong with Maggie or a flaw she needs to overcome, she just hasn’t had a lot of luck dating. Since lack of dating success is one for perpetual single-dom, it’s refreshing that Higgins doesn’t try to find a more dramatic explanation for Maggie’s single status. She wasn’t abused in a past relationship, she’s not a damaged former child star, and no vindictive relatives have cursed her. She’s just single.
Higgins also strikes an interesting balance between romantic and real – Maggie and Malone aren’t moony-eyed teenagers, but they have chemistry, they’re compatible, and they’re both willing to give a little to make things work. That said, Higgins doesn’t only inject fantasy into her romance, she broadens it beyond the couple. Maggie adores and is wonderful at her job, her family is lovable if a little misguided, and the small-town characters are friendly and unceasingly supportive. Higgins may not bother with sex scenes, but she has charmingly-imperfect-small-town-life porn totally figured out.
Conclusion: This is one of Higgins’ earlier books, and while her Blue Heron series is better known and probably better loved, the wry humor and likable characters in Catch of the Day propel a reader happily through a romantic and comedic story. Plus you get to learn a little more about the lobster industry, so what’s not to like?