Crossed Wires, by Rosy Thornton.
Philosophical nothings. Yet somehow, exchanging the small terrors and joys of parenthood with Dr. Peter Kendrick did not seem like nothing. Maybe it was the gulf between their lives which, perversely, made connection seem possible. Maybe it was something else: just Peter. Either way, she had no sensible basis for believing he might phone. But she found herself dearly hoping that he would. - from Crossed Wires, page 154 -
Mina, a single mother, lives in Sheffield and works at an auto call center processing insurance information. One ordinary day she gets a call from Peter Kendrick, a Cambridge professor, who needs to report an auto accident ... and something happens during the call -- a connection is made. Soft spoken Peter, who laughs self-consciously, draws Mina to him in a way she cannot explain. When she later snoops into his policy and discovers he is a widower, she finds an excuse to contact him at his home after work hours. As Peter and Mina tentatively reach out to each other they discover that despite their obvious differences (not the least is where they reside), they have much more in common ... most importantly that they are both parents struggling to raise their children alone.
Crossed Wires is a delightful and charming novel which caught me up in its pages very quickly. Although the story is a simple one (two people meet accidentally and develop a relationship which starts initially over the phone wires), there is a deeper meaning which radiates from the book ... that of biases and expectations impacting our impressions of others. Not only do Mina and Peter develop impressions (sight unseen) of each other which lead to some misunderstandings, but other characters also fall victim to bias and prejudice. There is a poor Irish couple referred to as "travelers" (ie: gypsies) who find it difficult to settle into Cambridge with their family because of the ignorance of their neighbors; and Mina's ten year old daughter Sal is isolated because she is different from other children. Mina's wayward sister is quickly judged by her family when her behavior is misinterpreted. This unexpected theme elevated this novel past a simple romantic comedy. Who among us has never been misunderstood or judged because of another's ignorance, prejudice, or bias? How many times have relationships broken down because expectations overshadowed reality?
Crossed Wires is a character driven novel about ordinary people living their lives and muddling through; it is about connections with others and how those connections can unravel through mishaps and misunderstandings; and it is about finding someone special to share one's life with.
Rosy Thornton has an easy style of writing and a clear understanding of not only her protagonists, but her minor characters as well. She clearly understands children -- and the child characters are not only well-observed, but also lovable. The novel is set in England ... and the language of the novel is very British. Given that I reside in the United States, I must admit to some difficulty understanding the descriptions of certain things ... and the choice of words for various foods and activities. Despite my ignorance of British vocabulary, I still was able to easily slip into the story of Mina and Peter and enjoy this book. This is a comfort read on many levels -- Thornton's family scenes of parent and child are warm and genuine, and I could imagine the lives being lived behind the doors of the characters' homes. The story is heartwarming and funny, and although the ending was a bit predictable, it struck just the right note for me.
For those readers looking for a light, yet engaging read, Crossed Wires is one that will satisfy. Thorton has written two previous novels (More Than Love Letters, and Hearts and Minds), both of which I would not hesitate to pick up.
Four stars out of five.
Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".