As I’ve mentioned before on this site, I’ve read pretty much everything written by Karin Kallmaker, and I am pleased to report that Roller Coaster (January 2012) is her best effort in years. The novel is almost twice as long as her usual work (according to her blog it’s the longest book of her career), and her deliberate approach pays off as she takes valuable time to develop her characters and build a believable scenario.
Two women, an aspiring chef and an aspiring actress, meet on a stalled roller coaster for a brief but candid exchange that changes each fundamentally. Twenty-three years later, Laura Izmani finds herself interviewing for the position of private chef for the famous stage actress Helen Baynor. Laura knows very well that Helen is the woman she met on the roller coaster, but is wary of bringing up the incident because she divulged her struggle with cocaine use at the time. Helen splits her time between New York and California, but her fierce devotion to her children–twins whose father died when they were in the womb–and money mean that she can afford the services of a personal chef to cook for them while she is out of state.
Laura has spent the intervening years roaming the globe, and is hoping to settle herself in a quiet place for a while before figuring out her next step. Her identity as the product of a Jamaican mother and a white father means that she’s acutely aware of potential outsider status, especially in the rich enclave in which Helen resides. For her part, Helen is struggling with the challenges of growing older in the public eye and finding roles so she can continue a remarkable career. She has sacrificed most personal relationships, aside from motherhood, to the pursue life on the stage.
As Laura and Helen encounter romantic challenges with other people, Kallmaker quietly but effectively sets the stage for their relationship as they live and work together in a family setting. But there are still several secrets between them–Laura continues to be reluctant about revealing their shared past–and Kallmaker makes her characters work for a satisfying conclusion. Recommended.
For a lesbian romance with a similarly driven actress as a main character, try Gun Brooke’s Course of Action.