cover image LATE BLOOMER


Melissa Pritchard, . . Doubleday, $23.95 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-385-50304-4

Pritchard's brilliant mix of romance and satire may have a heart made of cactus, but it goes down like hot Indian fry bread dipped in honey. "Shouldn't one live one's romance, not read about preposterous imaginary ones?" muses Prudence True Parker, college prof and single mom shortly before romance novelist Digby Deeds (aka Mildred Crawley) bequeaths her the last 40 plot lines from his bestselling Savage Passions series as a reward for passing him toilet paper in a lavatory. Parker, author of one award-winning book, hasn't written anything in years, but has mounting bills and a 17-year-old daughter to support, so she accepts. Then Parker meets gorgeous Ray Chasing Hawk, Comanche artist (and former porno films soundtrack composer), a self-styled "Lord of the Southern Plains," 14 years her junior. Although Hawk likes to bite rather than kiss and says, "[Y]ou are so white you glow in the dark," he's soon sharing Parker's Arizona nest, painting, modeling and preparing to become a Sun Dancer. Meanwhile, a parade of vividly drawn characters, including Hawk's fellow Sun Dancers, invade Parker's white-bread life as Hawk teaches Parker that "savage" love bears little resemblance to the novels she's been secretly writing. Pritchard's quicksilver ability to blend biting social/political commentary with a rueful analysis of relationships makes this lesson in true romance an absolutely sage-scented delight. Agent, Joy Harris. (Mar. 16)

Forecast: The author of three story collections ( The Instinct of Bliss, etc.) and two novels ( Phoenix and Selene of the Spirits), Pritchard has won two Pushcart prizes and the Flannery O'Connor Award. Readers of literary fiction who eschew romance will go for this one, while the jacket art, a close-up of an archetypal Romantic Times couple in a clutch, will draw romance fans.