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Olive Oil and White Bread, the cleverly titled offering by romance novelist Georgia Beers, is the story of two women, one from a traditional yet accepting Italian-American family, and one from what can only be termed old-school, uppity American. Angelina Righetti’s family is warm and accepting. Jillian Clark has an apologetic father and a snooty, unsupportive mother. There is an immediate attraction when the women see each other from a distance at a softball game, but only meet months later. It’s clear from their early interactions that these two are meant to be together for a lifetime if they can only figure out what’s important in life and in relationship—and that’s where the problems begin.
Angie, it turns out, is driven in her job and doesn’t understand why Jillian can’t seem to grasp that in order to succeed and make them comfortable in their lives, the long hours and weekend work are necessary. Jill makes compromises in her own career, giving up a dream to teach high school students and settles into her profession teaching art to young children. However, it’s the solitary life she lives at home as Angie schmoozes with clients that causes Jill the most concern.
This story has a longer timeline than most romances. It spans the marriage of these two main characters over decades, and sees them through difficult and heartbreaking times. Both main and secondary characters in this story are multi-dimensional. Jill is ever the introverted artist, ruminating on her loneliness and angst. When she finally tries to confront Angie about her compulsion for money and accomplishment, Angie can’t see why Jill doesn’t appreciate all she’s doing to provide for them. However, that’s exactly the problem. Jill is a contributing member of the family and wants to be acknowledged for it. She’d also like Angie to take the time to tell her she’s beautiful, and loved, and appreciated, something Angie hasn’t done in quite a while.
Other characters in the story–family members, co-workers–all have a part to play and help to move the story along. Some are truly loveable, some are funny, some heartbreaking, all are memorable in their own ways. Shayneese Jackson is Jill’s long-time friend. They grew up together and Shay doesn’t mince words with Jill when problems arise until that fateful day when she has no more to say to Jill. Angelina’s raucous family gatherings are filled with noise and plenty of love. Angie’s coworker and mentor, Hope Maynard, is the person who holds Angie together when work gets difficult and disappointing. Then there are the less than stellar characters populating this story: the old-school business owner who is Angie’s employer who doesn’t seem to recognize Angie’s talents, the full-of-himself salesman who can do no wrong and serves as a thorn in Angie’s side for most of her career. Then, there is Lindsey Page. Dangerous Lindsey Page, the new Physical Education teacher at Jill’s school. Beers mixes all these characters together in a recipe that can be both challenging at best and, at worst, difficult to swallow for the pain and suffering they cause.
As a chasm opens up, slowly and painfully widening between the two main characters, we watch them head for disaster feeling helpless, wishing we were somehow able to warn them that they are headed for catastrophe. By the time the relationship finally hits critical mass, it’s uncertain whether they will ever be able to find their way back to each other.
This is a story filled with poignant, heartbreaking moments, punctuated by small vignettes of light and happiness. Which will finally become the norm in these women’s lives remains to be seen. Only if they open their eyes and hearts to really begin to understand what their real problems are can they make the adjustments necessary to save their relationship. Olive Oil and White Bread is a turbulent and uncertain ride. Board this train if you dare, and travel along with Jill and Angie to discover their final destination.
White Bread and Olive Oil
By Georgia Beers
Paperback, 9781612940496, 240 pp.