Brake Failure is a silly story about a British woman who has to move to Kansas for her husband’s work and learns to love it.
The novel follows Ruby Mortimer-Smyth’s transformation from uppity housewife to booze-swilling free spirit. Ruby dreams of living in Paris and marries her husband, a wealthy marketing executive, with the hopes that his job will eventually take her there. Instead, Edward’s work takes the newlyweds to Kansas, which Ruby hates.
The story is set in 1999, and Ruby, a hypochondriac, worries over everything from the spots on her nails to the Y2K bug. Eventually, she forms friendships with the women in her small town, hangs out with a biker gang, writes product descriptions for a cosmetics company, grows attached to a dog named Rowdy, visits bars, writes poetry for the local paper, goes fishing and hunting, and generally assimilates with town life. Edward retains his stiff, particular demeanor, wanting Ruby to immerse herself in home making while he works, and he eventually suggests having children, which Ruby doesn’t want. The couple slowly grows apart over the course of the novel as Ruby grows more independent and learns to love herself. A few revelations are made about Ruby’s parentage, which I thought could have been more deeply developed.
Chapters about Ruby’s life are occasionally interrupted with scenes from a bank robbery investigation. I don’t want to spoil this part of the story, but Ruby’s life in Kansas and the scenes from the bank robbery investigation eventually intersect, and the result is humorous and refreshing.
I had a hard time at the story’s beginning because I really disliked Ruby. I found her to be an insufferable character, marrying for money and not love and constantly sniping with her pretentious and equally, if not more, insufferable sister, Claire. As the story continued and Ruby loosened up, I was thrilled at her growing self-confidence and carefree, albeit reckless, spirit.
This novel really turns the average modern romance on its head. Ruby has a few run-ins with one of the local cops, Hank. They are both attracted to each other in a sort of furious, destructive way, with Ruby committing small acts of vandalism and civil disobedience and Hank trying to correct her by sheer force of his machismo. Ruby is also attracted to Payat, the head of Weaver’s, a cosmetics company. Encounters with both men spell trouble for Ruby’s marriage. Hank is sort of an archetypal hometown good ol’ boy with an intensely masculine presence, as is common for modern heroes in many romance novels set in small towns. The only difference is Ruby turns out to be not the usual submissive romance heroine and rebuffs Hank’s advances on many occasions, despite the fact that he makes her feel weak-kneed and melty at times.
What could be a dour drag of a book about a woman’s life unraveling is instead comical, empowering, and lighthearted in the hands of author Alison Brodie. I’d love to see more from this author.