“On Turpentine Lane” by Elinor Lipman; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (305 pages, $25)
If my life ever gets rewritten as a rom-com novel, I’d want Elinor Lipman to do it; she has a way of crafting books so utterly charming that you want to set up residence inside them. And yet, in a seemingly effortless balance, she’s never saccharine, but writes in a wry, warm, we’re-all-friends-here-so-let’s-have-a-drink tone.
Her 11th novel, “On Turpentine Lane,” follows a pleasantly familiar format: a wisecracking, likable heroine ditches her useless boyfriend, finds love in her sweet office mate and deals with her colorful family. Faith Frankel, a thank-you-notes writer for a small-town prep school, is 32 and engaged, sort of, to man-child Stuart, who “started using words like potentiality and wholeness after an emergency appendectomy” and went to find himself by crossing the country on foot.
Meanwhile, co-worker Nick cutely takes up residence in Faith’s spare bedroom and a benign mystery unfolds in Faith’s newly purchased bungalow – “a little doll house” with a claw-foot tub, vintage wallpaper and a few secrets.
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Nonetheless, Lipman makes said mystery – which appears to involve dead babies and a murder plot – seem more quaintly screwball than truly threatening, and everything works out delightfully by the end. Along the way, we’re treated to Lipman’s effervescent dialogue (the book’s mostly conversation, all of it highly eavesdroppable), a plot in which everybody seems to turn up at Faith’s front door at the exact wrong – or right – moment, and a group of people with whom it’s great fun to hang. Like all of Lipman’s books, “On Turpentine Lane” quickly becomes a friend.