Sleeping with Ward Cleaver

Jenny Gardiner
2008, Women's Fiction
LoveSpell, $6.99, 294 pages, Amazon ASIN 0505527472

Grade: C+
Sensuality: Warm

Romance novels generally feature the courtship and end with a promise of Happily Ever After. Sleeping with Ward Cleaver begins 15 years after the happily ever after, and the events in it bear no resemblance to the usual romance novel epilogue. It's wry, funny, and ultimately very romantic, but the author's use of first person point of view was a problem.

When flight attendant Claire Mooney met young architect Jack Doolittle on a blind date, they felt an instant connection. The stars fell, fireworks ignited and champagne corks popped. Claire and Jack were insatiable - couldn't get enough of each other - and it wasn't just lust. They liked each other, enjoyed talking about everything, and were happy just to be together. Of course they married, but like all couples, they have their problems. The book begins when said problems are at their worst.

Fifteen years after they’ve said "I Do", outwardly everything is fine with the Doolittle family. Jack is now a full partner in his firm, Claire has a part-time job, they have five children, and a nice suburban home. But when it comes to their love life.....the stars are firmly in their orbits, the fireworks are all squibs, and the champagne corks are stuck in the bottles. In other words, all the magic has fled. Claire's once romantic and fun to be with husband has morphed into a constantly complaining uptight martinet whom she privately calls Ward, after the dad in Leave It To Beaver. As for Claire - she isn't exactly a June Cleaver supermom. The constant care and juggling of children, home, worki and Ward - I mean Jack - have left her lumpy, fretful, untidyi and angry with herself and her husband. Life is nothing but chaos for Claire and she feels as though she spends all her time picking up after the kids and trying to bring order out of household chaos while Mr. Grumpy sits there and criticizes her. When it comes to their sex life - it's practically non-existent. Sex is a once a week event that's become a chore, leaving Claire seething and unfulfilled.

The catalyst for a change in the marriage comes when, out of the blue, Claire gets an e-mail from her old boyfriend Todd. Years ago, Claire and Todd almost married - until he dumped her for someone else. Todd is on his second marriage now, troubled by his relationship with his son, and just wants to touch bases with Claire. She e-mails him back, he replies, and they strike up a conversation in which she takes on the role of Dear Abby. As she e-mails and advises Todd, Claire reminisces about the past and can't help but remember how much fun she had with Jack, how much they meant to each other, and how deeply they loved and liked each other. The feelings Claire had for Jack are still there buried under layers of resentment, and despite everything, Claire still loves Jack very much and wants her old fun loving husband back. When Jack plans to go to Washington for a business trip and take his young protégé with him, Claire makes plans for her own trip to Washington to save her marriage.

Sleeping With Ward Cleaver is told in first person from Claire's point of view. We see everything through her eyes - even the flashbacks to when she and Jack met are all through Claire’s eyes. When she finally confronts Jack in Washington, he agrees with her about his behavior and changes practically with a snap of the fingers. Granted that Jack was pretty hard to get along with, but Claire had her share of blame for the problems they were facing as well. We don’t see anything at all though Jack’s point of view and, although I normally like first person, this left me wondering. Was Jack really that bad? Why didn’t Claire talk to him earlier? Why did she let things fester for so long? While Claire's voice engaged me, I couldn't help but wonder about these questions after I closed the book.

Also, there were a couple of little things that threw me off a bit. Claire’s father-in-law is named Dick. She smirks and snickers (to herself) about his name every time he shows up. Come on! Claire is supposed to be an adult, not an adolescent boy and I thought she acted stupidly here (at least she kept her smirkiness to herself). And Claire spends most of the book in a state of chaos with her children and their chores (mostly their refusal to do them), but her mother-in-law devises a system that whips the the kids into shape in one weekend. Somehow, I don’t think it would work in so short a time. Also there were a couple of throwaway lines that made my conservative Catholic fur bristle, but I’m probably the only one who’d notice them.

Meg Cabot’s blurb compares Jennie Gardiner to Erma Bombeck. Ehh, I don’t think she’s there yet, but she does have a funny voice and can tell an engaging story. Despite my problems with this, I think Sleeping With Ward Cleaver is still a better than average read but I sure wish I could have heard Ward – I mean Jack’s side of it.

-- Ellen Micheletti

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