The Great Escape
by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

William Morrow, 2012. ISBN 978-0-062-10606-3.
Reviewed by Olga Livshin
Posted on 12/13/2012

Fiction: Mainstream; Fiction: Romance

I enjoyed this book. The narrative flows effortlessly, the descriptions are vivid, and the plot plugs along nicely. The beginning is intriguing: the protagonist Lucy runs away from her wedding by hitching a ride on a motorcycle of a stranger. What follows is an amalgam of a love story and a self-discovery story; both geared toward female readers.

Unfortunately, unlike most other books by this author, I didn't sympathize with her heroine Lucy. I must admit, I read about her exploits with pleasure. It was fun and a fast romp. But after I finished the book, I was left with vague dissatisfaction. I think this novel suffers from a rare ailment: a misplaced protagonist.

After her disappearance act at the wedding, Lucy is wrecked by guilt and uncertainty. Hiding from the world on a small island, she tries to figure out who she is. She goes about it in an odd way—by shedding her skin of a polite, well-dressed, thirty-one-year-old society woman and plunging into her second adolescence. She dons trashy clothing, wears too much makeup like a cheap hooker, and decorates herself with tattoos and piercings. She uses bad language and pretends to be a tough biker girl, but that's all it is: pretense. Because Lucy is a fake.

A beloved daughter of a former President of the United States, Lucy has money unlimited, and her parents are firmly behind her. Her tattoos are fake, her piercings are fake, and her clothing and haircut are easy to change. Continuing her charade of a spoiled brat, she treats a house of her bodyguard Panda as if it was her property: rearranging furniture, throwing out things she doesn't like, and appropriating his bedroom for herself. She doesn't pay him rent, ignores his feeble objections, and he lets her. She is an American royalty, after all. As a result, the mutual attraction between Lucy and Panda seems as bogus as everything else about her.

Fortunately, the novel has the real thing too: a secondary character, Lucy's neighbor on the island, Bree. Bree is all Lucy isn't. A bitter divorcee whose husband left her for a younger woman, Bree has no money and no job. She settled on the island after her older friend died and left her a dilapidated cabin in her will.

By the same will, Bree is named guardian of a twelve-year-old boy Toby, her late friend's grandson. The orphan boy resents Bree's intrusion in his life, and Bree isn't enamored of her guardian duty herself. Damaged and lost in her self-loathing and self-pity, she needs to rebuild her life, to find a way to overcome Toby's hostility, but she doesn't know how. Poverty gnaws at her, eroding her soul and her pride, and she distrusts everyone, including herself.

As the story progresses, Bree claws her way through doubts and fears, towards courage and self-respect. Her journey is a hard but genuine one, balancing Lucy's tale of a rich princess slumming. Both women's romantic lines also mirror each other, although Bree's love story is much more complicated, resembling a cat-cradle of confusing emotions, just like in real life.

I wish the writer had made Bree the protagonist. Even in her supporting role, with a minimum of page space, Bree engages the readers' interest, plucks at their heartstrings, and makes this novel worth reading.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips is a New York Times, Publisher's Weekly, and USA Today bestseller, whose books are published all over the world. She soared onto the New York Times bestseller list with Dream a Little Dream. She's the only four-time recipient of the Romance Writers of America's prestigious Favorite Book of the Year Award. A resident of the Chicago suburbs, she is also a hiker, gardener, reader, wife, and mother of two grown sons. Visit her website.

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