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Isn't It Romantic?: An Entertainment

Isn't It Romantic?: An Entertainment

by Ron Hansen

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Touring America was Natalie's idea. But she had not planned on being accompanied on a cross-country bus by her playboy fiancé, Pierre. Nor had they anticipated being stranded in Seldom, Nebraska, population 395.

But that is exactly what happens to this French couple, and they quickly find themselves being taken in by the obliging citizens of Seldom:


Touring America was Natalie's idea. But she had not planned on being accompanied on a cross-country bus by her playboy fiancé, Pierre. Nor had they anticipated being stranded in Seldom, Nebraska, population 395.

But that is exactly what happens to this French couple, and they quickly find themselves being taken in by the obliging citizens of Seldom: Natalie by Mrs. Christiansen, a retired high school teacher who runs a rooming house for women, and Pierre by Owen, a gas station owner and ambitious winemaker in an unlikely part of the world.

And here, also, the separated couple becomes enchanted by the locals. Natalie is soon being wooed by Dick Tupper, a handsome and honest rancher. Pierre falls quickly for Iona, a beautiful, no-nonsense waitress at the local diner.

In this charming entertainment, mistaken identities, botched schemes, and hilarious misunderstandings abound as Parisian sophistication collides with the affability and simple pleasures of the Great Plains.

Editorial Reviews

Bob Kerrey
“Ron Hansen’s ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? is a lively, affectionate and often poetic romp. It made me laugh out loud.”
People Magazine
"A treat …[ISN’T IT ROMANTIC?] has both sophisticated and down-homey humor … with laugh out loud scenes."
“A treat …[ISN’T IT ROMANTIC?] has both sophisticated and down-homey humor … with laugh out loud scenes.”
Charlotte Observer
“Hilarious … be prepared to be unexpectedly charmed, delighted … touched.”
Denver Westword
“[A] comedy of culture shock and errors [that] never misses a punch line.”
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“Smiles and outright laughter …a literary bonbon as sweet and light as meringue.”
New York Times
“[A] sweet, light, exhilarating flight of fancy.”
New York Times Book Review
“The tiny town of Seldom is truly a funny place.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“Hilarious … irreverent and laugh-out-loud funny … further proof of the author’s phenomenal range and talent.”
Lincoln Journal Star (Nebraska)
“Done with such skill, and such heart, that this slyly comic froth of a novel is exceptionally enjoyable.”
“Hansen shows the true reach of his talent ... an inspired comedy that will have readers laughing out loud.”
Wall Street Journal
“Ron Hansen’s brief, charming, moonstruck novel … [is a] delightful roundelay… that defies expectations.”
Seattle Times
“Irresistible … silly and funny and filled with wonderful characters … a romp.”
Midwest Living
“Ron Hansen delivers a sweet surprise with ISN’T IT ROMANTIC?”
Publishers Weekly
Ersatz French culture and aw-shucks Americana collide in this corny romantic comedy, a flat-footed departure from form by National Book Award finalist Hansen (Mariette in Ecstasy, etc.). Natalie Clairvaux, a Paris librarian specializing in Americana at the Biblioth que Nationale, embarks on a grassroots See America bus tour of out-of-the-way U.S. landmarks in an effort to escape the unwanted attentions of her philandering fianc , Pierre Smith, scion of a family of French wine sellers. Maddened by her unexplained disappearance, Pierre tracks her down and catches up with her tour group in Omaha. The quarreling couple abandons the tour at a tiny crossroads outside of Seldom, Neb. (pop. 395), on Wednesday, agreeing that Natalie will reach a decision about their wedding by noon Saturday. In Seldom, the couple is immediately elected king and queen of an annual local festival honoring a Frenchman who founded the town, and all manner of rather predictable fun and games begins. Pierre is quartered with Owen Nelson, whose penchant for wine making is second only to his obsession with Cornhusker football. Disillusioned Natalie is soon captivated by handsome Dick Tupper, a 50-year-old rancher. And, true to form, womanizing Pierre starts hitting on Iona Christiansen, a comely waitress at the local cafe. A wine tasting for hayseeds, a bachelor party (and bridal shower) and a brace of bungled trysts are a few of the stale devices driving this perfunctory farce. The subtitle suggests that Hansen knows this is a lesser effort, and readers will concur with the analysis. (Jan. 13) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Quick! Tell one of those talented independent film companies to make a movie of this utterly delightful, wholly visual romantic comedy. Part fairy tale, part plug for the charms of life in small town America-really small-town America-Hansen's novel is pure magic. Natalie Clairvaux, a gorgeous librarian, flees her native France and her less-than-faithful hunky fiancé, Pierre, to tour the United States. Her position as an expert on all things American at the Bibliotheque Nationale inspires Natalie to climb aboard a See America tour bus for an up-close-and-personal look at the offbeat. A frantic Pierre tracks her down in Omaha, but Natalie is not swayed. As she is delayed in Seldom, Nebraska (population 395), the story kicks into hijinks gear. Sweet eccentricities abound as the citizenry of Seldom take Natalie and Pierre under their wing, anointing them King and Queen of the town's upcoming three-day Revels. Misunderstandings; jealousy-inducing liaisons with the older, wealthy Dick Tupper and a luscious waitress named Iona; and a gas station owner who is a surprisingly sophisticated connoisseur of wine are enchanting. Because of the age of the characters, older teen readers probably will need a little encouragement to take this book home. Nevertheless, it is highly recommended. VOYA Codes: 4Q 3P S A/YA (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult). 2003, HarperCollins, 198p, Andersen
Library Journal
Literary luminary Hansen (Hitler's Niece) has written a short, funny novel not unlike what's available nowadays from good romance writers-except that it's by a man and it costs a whole lot more than a mass market or trade paperback would. (And note that it's novella size, with large margins.) In love with all things American, young Frenchwoman Natalie Clairvaux eschews an August holiday in the south of France and heads for the United States, where she journeys by bus to see la vraie Am rique ("the real America"). Boyfriend Pierre thinks that she's folle ("insane") but nonetheless follows her. An impulsive moment strands them in Seldom, NE, where a cast of zany characters reminiscent of television shows like Ed or Northern Exposure takes center stage. This entourage is led by a sexy waitress named Iona, who falls for Pierre, and Iona's heartthrob, Dick Tupper, who falls for Natalie. That staple of romance, the misunderstanding, leads to the town's preparing for Natalie's marriage to Pierre or is it Dick? Suffice it to say that true love triumphs, and all ends very well indeed. This light, charming, and humorous romp will bring a smile to the face of even the most love-jaded reader. Highly recommended for all collections.-Jo Manning, Barry Univ., Miami Shores, FL Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A pleasant diversion from the usually weighty Hansen (Hitler's Niece, 1999, etc.): an amiable account of an ill-matched French couple who get lost in America and discover each other. Natalie Clairvaux is one of those French people who, thinking they like America, actually like all the wrong things (Jerry Lewis movies, for example). A librarian in the Americana section of the Bibliotheque Francaise, Natalie follows US football, adores Hollywood movies, and even thinks highly of Walt Disney. One summer she decides to visit the US for the first time and arranges a bus trip from coast to coast in order to see as much of the country as possible. She doesn't know, of course, that cross-country buses in the US are ridden mainly by petty crooks, mental cases, and teenaged runaways, so the first few days of interstates, cheap motels, and gas station food come as something of an unpleasant surprise. By the time Natalie's estranged fiancé Pierre tracks her down in the little Nebraska town of Seldom, she is worn out by her adventure and almost glad to see him. When they miss the last bus out of town for three days, however, the situation looks dire indeed-until they meet up with some of the locals. Owen Nelson, mechanic and winemaker, puts Pierre up at his place and introduces him to the local vintages (which, astonishingly to Pierre, are quite good). Natalie stays at a local boardinghouse called Queen of the Revels, named for the annual three-day festival in honor of Seldom's French founding father. Where's the romance in this? Well, Pierre falls in love with Iona Christiansen, waitress at the local diner, while Natalie is pursued by the 50-something rancher Dick Tupper. And? That would be giving itaway. Suffice it to say that sometimes you have to go a long way to see what was right next to you all along. An amusement, but no more.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Harper Perennial
Edition description:
First Perennial Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.46(d)

Read an Excerpt

Isn't It Romantic?
An Entertainment

Chapter One

America was Natalie's idea.

She'd gone to the upstairs travel agency of Madame Dubray on rue Saint-Jacques in Paris, and politely listened as Madame extolled the fresh sea oysters of Saint-Malo, the forests and glades of Perpignan where there were no longer lions, the sunstruck beaches of the Côte d'Azur where Mademoiselle could air her still-youthful breasts in innocent, unfettered freedom.

Natalie shyly hid her still-youthful breasts with her forearms as she told Madame that unfortunately those were all places that Pierre would have chosen for an August vacation and she was no longer interested in accommodating her shifty fiancé. She reminded Madame that she was a librarian specializing in Americana at the Bibliothèque nationale, so touring the United States seemed a more intriguing and practical choice than staying with the French in France for the August vacances as she'd done all her life.

Sighing, Madame agreed, in the grudging way of one who thought some people would garden in basements if you let them. "You would prefer what, Mademoiselle Clairvaux? Shopping in New York? Mickey Mouse in Orlando?"

She shook her head and said she would like to tour America on an overland route from the East Coast to the West.

Madame Dubray held her face carefully fixed as she asked, "How?"

Natalie felt unfairly tested. "Railway?"

Madame smirked. "Railway," she said. "In America."

"Or perhaps I could rent an automobile."

Madame scoffed, "Aren't you the audacious one? Motoring through all the forty states."

"There are fifty."

"Well, not worth seeing," said Madame.

Natalie told the travel agent that she wasn't confident there was a good way to do what she wanted, that's why she'd thought it necessary to visit Madame. But she very much wanted to see some of the attractions and natural wonders in the American interior that Europeans frequently missed. She lifted from the floor beside her a coffee-table book and turned its pages to show photographs of children on candy-striped swings below a car chase on a drive-in movie screen, snow falling on the just-alike homes of Levittown, hot sunlight and green machinery baling yellow hay in Iowa, an ominous rainstorm over a trailer park in Kansas, a girl in cowboy boots selling yard gnomes at a flea market, a giant bingo parlor with hundreds hunching over their game cards. "Like these," Natalie said, "not the typical places."

Madame Dubray gave it some thought and said, "We have one possibility."

Natalie said in English, "Oh goody!"

Chapter Two

Mademoiselle Clairvaux was a gorgeous woman of twenty-six with an oval face, caramel-colored eyes, and a luxuriance of coffee-brown hair, and she sometimes wore serious eyeglasses she didn't need in order to intimidate men who seemed to think she needed touching. But she forgot those glasses in her hurried packing in Paris and she was so wearied with unsolicited attentions on the flight from Orly to New York City that she purchased heavy black spectacles like those Buddy Holly favored before she got on the Sunday morning shuttle to the Port Authority terminal.

There she found the See America bus hulking in a side alley like a venerable but malfunctioning machine that had been cannibalized for auto parts or just plain meanness, its metal surfaces wildly paisleyed with left-over housepaints. Luggage of Samsonite, canvas, grocery box, and gunnysack was waiting to be stowed in its craw. Waiting, too, were its forlorn passengers: a crazy old coot with binoculars, some Japanese children sullenly playing with Gameboys, some Canadians for whom cordiality was not a priority, a husband and wife in matching safari jackets, a crewcut man who tiptoed wherever he went, a hugely overweight woman continually folding chocolate eclairs into her mouth, three teenaged girls from Scotland who seemed near panic over a spree that had gone lame many days ago and now considered Natalie Clairvaux with desperate affection.

She nearly walked away, but she knew such delicacy about transportation and companionship would make her a tourist, not a traveler. She'd lack moxie. And so she joined the See America tour as she'd planned.

The first stop was Hoboken and the boyhood home of Frank Sinatra, though there was no sign on the house and the owner looked worriedly at them from a chink in the venetian blinds. They then saw the world's largest buffet; the location for a 1940s movie that starred either Peter Lorre or Adolphe Menjou; a café where a waitress succeeded in juggling four out of five coffee cups; Punxsatawney, Pennsylvania, where on February second a woodchuck seeing or not seeing its shadow would somehow predict the climate; a hideous motel near Lake Erie where the tour group was put up that night, and where Mademoiselle Clairvaux hesitated at her room's threshold for many minutes, skeptically staring in.

In eastern Ohio, Natalie woke up from a morning nap in a truckstop where idling semis throbbed and percolated outside the bus windows. Huddling like a waif, she walked down a long line of them, considering with puzzlement the opportunities that a number of truckers offered, and found her tour group inside a cafeteria. She herded along behind them, skating a tray on aluminum rails, and choosing from among the appalling alternatives some crusty chicken pieces. A cook then plopped a softball of mashed potatoes on Natalie's dish and flooded the plate with Crayola-yellow gravy. The husband in the safari jacket confided, "We're packing beef jerky if you need it."

She had no idea what that was.

The husband was about to show her when his wife began hitting him with a spoon.

The next stop was the House of Bottles, and then Heine's Place where they all glumly peered at an orange ten-ton wheel of cheese in a refrigerated glass case. A sign on the wall said CHEDDAR. In Akron they tentatively entered an exhibit hall ...

Isn't It Romantic?
An Entertainment
. Copyright © by Ron Hansen. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are Saying About This

Bob Kerrey
“Ron Hansen’s ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? is a lively, affectionate and often poetic romp. It made me laugh out loud.”

Meet the Author

Ron Hansen is the bestselling author of the novel Atticus (a finalist for the National Book Award), Hitler's Niece, Mariette in Ecstasy, Desperadoes, and Isn't It Romantic?, as well as a collection of short stories, a collection of essays, and a book for children. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award. Ron Hansen lives in northern California, where he teaches at Santa Clara University.

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