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Laura Rider's Masterpiece doesn't quite live up to billing

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Laura Rider's Masterpiece doesn't quite live up to billing
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Why is it that we are so fascinated with old paintings?

Is it because we can sympathize with the poor soul in Munch's "The Scream"? Do we long for a cool dip in Monet's "Water Lilies"? Or maybe we know just what DaVinci was thinking when he gave Mona Lisa her devilish smile.


Perhaps we spend time gazing at the Old Masters because we think there's little chance we could pick up a brush, dip it in paint, and create such a work of art.

Laura Rider knows she's capable of great things, but she only needs a boost. In Laura Rider's Masterpiece by Jane Hamilton, Mrs. Rider doesn't wait for inspiration to happen. She makes her own.

Everybody who meets Charlie Rider thinks he's gay but Charlie's wife, Laura, can attest that "everybody" is very, very wrong.

Charlie is a virile man; so much so that Laura has told him she's tired of everything in the bedroom, especially him.

But that doesn't mean their marriage is over. Charlie and Laura Rider live a happy life. Side by side, they run the Prairie Wind Farm Nursery in Hartley, Wisconsin. Together, they have their cats and their plants. Separately, Laura has her new-found writing career and Charlie... well, he has whatever he has out in the nursery.

Charlie may be virile, but he's not the smartest shoot in the garden. So when he meets Jenna Faroli by chance and Jenna Faroli seems taken by Charlie Rider, Laura is quite amazed.

Jenna Faroli, host of Milwaukee Public Radio, former Survivor cast member, former Mrs. America contestant, is probably the most well-known resident of Hartley. Laura has been listening to Jenna Faroli's radio show since forever. Laura is a big fan and she wonders what it might be like to be Jenna Faroli's friend.

But Jenna Faroli seems to be a fan of Charlie's, and the two strike up a fond e-mail friendship, the likes of which Laura Rider can't ignore.

If a woman wants to become a famous writer, what better way to research a romance story than to watch it develop -- with more than just a little assistance -- right in front of her eyes?

I wanted to love this novel, but I didn't. And yet, I didn't hate it, either.

I found Laura Rider's Masterpiece to be merely okay. A "five" on a scale of 1-10. Right smack in the middle between "must-read" and "throw-away."

Maybe it was because none of the major characters are very likeable. Laura Rider is a clueless manipulator, Jenna Faroli is a silver-spooned snob, and Charlie Rider is well beyond completely loony.

Author Jane Hamilton is usually known for peopling her novels with players you care about, but I really didn't give a hoot what happened to anyone here.

Yes, readers will find a few (few!) smiles in this story, but nothing gut-busting. A laugh-a-minute it's not.

If you're in the mood for a good summer read, look at another Jane Hamilton book instead. As for Laura Rider's Masterpiece, paint it middle-of-the-road beige.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is the author of the DL Newspapers book review column, "The Bookworm Sez." She has been reading since she was three years old, and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives in West Salem, Wis., with her two dogs and 9,000 books.