Woman in Red is not chicklit, not by a long shot. It's too serious, too self-aware, and--let's face it--far too well-written. Still, the term melodrama is never far from one's mind when one is reading Woman in Red. It's like a Lifetime Movie Network movie, but one of the really good ones (yes, they exist). It has class, it has style, and if the coincidences may pile up a little too thick and fast for some, tough. Go read Austen. Oh, wait, Austen's full of melodramatic coincidence, too...
Woman in Red begins with a prologue nine years prior to the main events of the story. As it opens, we're at Alice Kessler's side as she awaits sentencing in the trial of the drunk driver who killed her young son, David. Owen White, a prominent--and rich--member of the community is acquited on all counts, and as she is leaving the courthouse with her other son, Jeremy, Alice plows him down with her car.
We meet her again nine years later, after her parole, as she's arriving via ferry to Gray's Island, her home town and the place where both her son Jeremy and the now paralyzed Owen White live. At the same time we meet--as does Alice--Colin McGinty, recovering alcoholic, 9/11 widower, disgraced former prosecuter of the City of New York, and grandson of the recently deceased William McGinty, painter of the famous portrait called--you got it--Woman in Red.
Eventually, of course, circumstances will bring these two wounded, suffering, but noble people together, and that story is rich. Alice's son Jeremy is accused of a rape he didn't commit, Alice convinces Colin to take up the law again to defend him, and their connection grows even stronger. But wait, there's more. Colin learns that Alice is the granddaughter of the woman in red painted by his grandfather.
There is a parallel narrative set during World War II, following the stories of Eleanor, the woman in red, and William, the artist who painted her. If the nefarious Owen White's equally nefarious father is brought into this narrative in a key role, so much the better.
Yes, Woman in Red is a melodrama, a contrived story full of coincidence. It's also beautifully written, with characters, including an ex-con friend of Alice's, an African American queen named Calpernia who drops in to liven up white-bread small-town America, who are deeply and deftly drawn. There are even good dog characters, always a plus in any book.