Forty-two years and five books into her life, Charlotte Dearborn abandons her noncommittal boyfriend and her sinking-ship writing career, and becomes an elementary school teacher. Sure, she's giving up her dream of being a famous novelist, but in exchange she'll find a stable income, job satisfaction, and maybe even love. At least that's how it'd work if she were a character in one of her novels. In real life, she's busy coping with twenty yelling first-graders, a teacher's lounge full of nasty coworkers, and a series of romantic misadventures that fall far, far short of the real thing.
Charlotte's struggle to navigate the waters of a new career, a new single life, and the loss of her identity as a writer make Second Draft of My Life a funny, compulsively readable gem. From an author The Boston Globe applauded as "very, very good on the business of falling in and out of love," it is part romantic comedy, part manual for living, and wholly triumphant.
Readers of "women's fiction" will find escapist entertainment and some nuggets of insight in Lewis's latest novel. It follows the tribulations of a praised but chronically impecunious author, Charlotte Dearborn, who abandons the writing life and her boyfriend to start a new career. Crushed when even her editor and her agent encourage her to "get out of this cesspool of a business," Charlotte determines to chuck it all and reinvent herself as a first-grade teacher in affluent southern California, welcoming the idea of a steady salary, benefits and a summer vacation. Lewis (The Answer Is Yes; Heart Conditions) delineates Charlotte's adjustment to teaching, introducing a school full of students and teachers who all speak in the same undifferentiated voice. She follows her heroine home to cheery-but-clunky dialogue with her twin sister, bookstore owner Emily (they were named after the Bront s), and a coterie of middling men who catch Charlotte's attention. Meanwhile, Charlotte discovers that she can't keep from recording her thoughts on the difficulties and satisfactions of her new profession, and eventually she has a manuscript whose heroine is a veteran teacher. Unfortunately, Lewis's own writing lacks subtlety, and the characters are dull and flat. Although she has the courage to create a character who struggles with mediocrity, Charlotte comes across as insipid and essentially uninventive, further burdened because she is lonely and overweight. The idea that writers' lives parallel those of their characters is an interesting one, but it's not developed here. Instead, the episodes resemble the events of a sitcom, and the ending is so cheerily simplistic that Charlotte's happiness feels too slick to be deserved.