Let’s start with the positive: If The Side of the Angels were a primer on how to run a labor strike, it would be the most interesting guide ever written. (When’s the last time you saw instructions that had a romantic subplot?) Unfortunately, it’s a novel—and since it goes on in excruciating detail about a fictional nurses’ strike in New England, it’s a torturous one.
The book stars—and I do mean stars, because there are countless movie metaphors—Nicky Malone, a Washington PR woman who’s 32 and single, much to her good Catholic mother’s chagrin. Dispatched to help run a nurses’ strike, she has to work alongside an ex-boyfriend she hasn’t seen in five years. Of course, sparks ensue.
The most gripping story—not the narrator’s but a tangential one starring her Miss Lonelyhearts cousin and an already-engaged man—occupies maybe 15 of the 300 pages. That Cleveland Park resident Bartolomeo—who has worked as an organizer for the American Federation of Teachers—saved that story’s resolution until the very end is the only reason I paged through endless labor gobbledygook and tiresome similes (at least one per page): “like a doctor advising a hefty patient to go on a diet,” “as if she’d discovered radium,” “as if she’d gotten Balanchine to choreograph motions for everyday social encounters.”
All of this is a shame, because Bartolomeo’s 1998 debut, Cupid and Diana, was filled with gentle humor and sharp insights. There are glimmers of those qualities here, but they’re awfully faint.