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Tart    by Jody Gehrman order for
by Jody Gehrman
Order:  USA  Can
Red Dress Ink, 2005 (2005)
* *   Reviewed by Shannon Bigham

Claudia Bloom lives the life of a tart, which she describes as 'the synesthesia of flavor mixing with colors: reds, oranges, and apple-greens.' This translates into living her life with the goal of doing everything she wants to do with an 'edgy sharpness' - particularly partying, dating men (single or married), and living life on a whim. This worked for Claudia in her twenties when she was a happy, carefree young woman bent on satisfying her desires. Now that she is twenty-nine years old, things are not going so well. Claudia feels her age and it's not easy to compete for men at bars and nightspots with younger, nubile girls.

When Claudia discovers that her boyfriend has hooked up with younger Rain, she decides to pick up and live elsewhere. She snags a one-year teaching position in theater in Santa Cruz, California, leaves her home in Austin, steals her now ex-boyfriend's VW bus and zooms off. Unfortunately, the bus breaks down in Santa Cruz, catches fire, and explodes. As she's stranded on the side of the highway with only her pet cat, Medea, in her arms (all her possessions were destroyed), an attractive man named Clay gives Claudia a lift on his motorcycle. They immediately hit it off, leading to a one-night stand. Claudia finds out that Clay is married (although separated) when his wife Monica discovers her in Clay's bed the next morning. So begins her tumultuous life in Santa Cruz.

Claudia dusts herself off and finds a cheap place to live, scraping together enough cash to buy an ancient, but adorable 1964 lime green Volvo. She starts her new job and to her dismay, discovers that Monica works at the same university. Claudia is incensed that Clay did not clue her in (after all, she told him she would be teaching there). The tension grows to astronomical levels when Claudia learns that Clay's mother is her direct supervisor. Concerned that she is becoming attached to Clay (it isn't tart to fall in love), Claudia is starting to wonder if she should discontinue her old habits. Then her neo-Deadhead cousin Rose shows up with her gigantic Saint Bernard, Rex, and the duo moves into Claudia's tiny flat. Practically estranged from her parents, Claudia takes Rose in, in order to have some sort of relationship with a family member.

This engaging, well-written novel explores love, family secrets, 'forbidden fruit' and 'all things Tart'. Claudia's flawed character makes her interesting - and, after all, none of us are perfect. Her relationships (with Clay and her family) are the focus of the book, as well as her evaluation of her lifestyle and whether it is still working for her. Tart delves a bit deeper into family and relationship issues than most in the genre (a refreshing change from the fluffier offerings) and I recommend it to chick lit fans.

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