Ellen Sussman,
On a Night Like This
(Time Warner, 2004)

I do not think I have ever listened to an audiobook in which I have flip-flopped back and forth between enjoying the story and thinking it was overly dramatic as much as I have listening to On a Night Like This by Ellen Sussman.

On the one hand, this tale is a touching love story of two people who should have become closer in high school and now get a second chance in early middle age. On the other hand, there are occasional bouts of sap where I would roll my eyes, shake my head and wait for the moment to pass.

The story starts out with Blair Clemens having sex with two different men -- one a stranger, the other her druggie landlord -- within a 24-hour period. Before you question this character's morals, realize that she just found out she has cancer and that she only has months to live. That makes sleeping around all right, doesn't it? Or, at least, understandable. Perhaps I should mention that Blair has a daughter in high school who she will not see graduate. She also works as a chef in a restaurant and resides in San Francisco. Other than her daughter, she has never been particularly close to anybody. An event that haunts her past is, in a large part, responsible.

Luke Bellingham was a popular, rich, and attractive boy at the same high school Blair attended. While he never really knew Blair, he knew enough of her tortured past that he has been intrigued with her story for years. After high school, Luke found his way to Hollywood, where one of his films eventually won an Oscar. As the time for their 25th high school reunion draws near, Luke is asked to find the "lost souls" -- those kids who have disappeared over the years. Forget the reunion and the search. On a Night Like This focuses on Luke's obsession for Blair. Over eight hours, the listener will see two people fall in love, despite Blair's cancer or Luke's wife.

One thing that worked particularly well for this story is that there are two readers. Barbara Goodson plays the role of Blair. Barbara, I was not surprised to find out, has voiced characters on several children's television series (Spiderman, FraggleRock) as well as films (Lady & the Tramp II, Final Fantasy). (I initially thought the character sounded like a cartoon -- a cartoon ho.) Michael Gough voices Luke. Michael has a pleasant, professional-sounding voice, much like a news reporter. He has experience in the animated world as well (Lady & the Tramp II, Winnie the Pooh). For the most part, Barbara and Michael perform their various roles convincingly. The occasional eye-rolling drama is as much the fault of the writing as it is the acting.

Sussman is an experienced writer of short stories. According to the liner notes, she "is the winner of a Writers at Work Fellowship, as well as both the Redbook and Paris Transcontinental short story contests." Ellen's website sings the praises of On a Night Like This, her first novel.

I have heard books like this described as "wine and cheese novels." The characters whine a lot and parts of the plot are rather cheesy. That being said, I do think it is a great first effort. If you can handle the brief moments that are reminiscent of a cheap romance book (Harlequin comes to mind), then I would highly recommend On a Night Like This to you. If "wine and cheese" is not your thing, then pass this story by. But for a handful of scenes, I would have rated this book a must-buy for listeners of romance novels.

- Rambles
written by Wil Owen
published 3 July 2004

[ visit the author's website ]

Buy it from Amazon.com.