Out of Warranty, by Haywood Smith

Despite its Viagra-commercial cover art and quirky plot summary, Haywood Smith's novel Out of Warranty isn't a conventional middle-aged romance. Instead, it's a story about two deeply neurotic characters beset by a legion of age-specific problems: fragile parents, irritating adult children, bad health, and worse insurance coverage.

After years of being dismissed as a hypochondriac, Cassie Jones has finally discovered the cause of her chronic pain: she has a rare mold allergy. Her condition is treatable, but she has limited medical coverage, she's running through the large insurance payout she inherited after her husband's death at a terrifying clip, and she's still years away from qualifying for Medicare. Jack Wilson suffers from the same medical condition, but has different financial troubles—he lacks the up-front money he needs to make his ramshackle farmhouse suitable for someone with severe allergies, but he has excellent insurance and a solid pension. When Jack and Cassie meet in the waiting room of their doctor's office, they find one another immensely irritating... until it occurs to them that they might be the perfect candidates for a modern-day marriage of convenience.

Neither of Smith's protagonists are particularly likeable. Cassie is consumed by memories of her late husband; Jack is more interested in stuff than people. Each has children, parents, and friends, but their most important relationships are with their various medical conditions, which consume most of their lives. Their growing friendship makes both a little more sympathetic, but it's tough to warm up to a woman who assures her children that she loves them “almost” as much as she loved their father, or a man who genuinely doesn't care that his kids never bother to visit their elderly, ailing grandmother.

But once I discarded any notion of actually liking the characters, Out of Warranty became surprisingly engrossing. Cassie and Jack's medical condition is explored in fascinating detail, and their successful struggle to get their lives in order is satisfying in the same way watching home-improvement TV is satisfying—it's always rewarding to watch someone make order out of chaos. Cassie and Jack might be total misfits, but they're a genuinely good influence on one another, and that's more than enough to transform their oddball story into an unexpectedly winning read.

Review based on publisher-provided copy.
Posted by: Julianka


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