Published March 2010 by Little, Brown and Company
Source: the publisher sent this one for participation in an online book discussion
Violet and David Parry and living the American dream. They have everything they could ever hope for - a darling daughter, Dot, a home in the Hollywood Hills, expensive cars, expensive clothes, and hired help. But David, a highly successful music executive, just isn't making Violet happy any more. In fact, ever since she gave up her job as a successful television writer to have a family and spent all of her own money to remodel their multi-million dollar home, things have been going down hill for Violet. Being a mom isn't what she was expecting and being the perfect executive's wife at the expense of being her own person is making Violet desperately unhappy.
Enter Teddy, a musician Violet meets in a museum bathroom. Despite his being dirty, wearing mismatched clothing, and smelling, there's something about Teddy that draws Violet to him like the proverbial moth to flames. She risks everything to be with him and is willing to give him whatever it takes to have him. But David is on to her and Teddy isn't quite as eager to start a new life as Violet is.
We're also introduced to Sally, David's diabetic sister who teaches ballet and is working like mad to find a husband with money before she gets too old. She has a friend introduce her to Jeremy, a well-known sportswriter who's about to hit it big with a job on ESPN. Sally throws herself at Jeremy, pulling out every trick in her book to reel him in despite the fact that she hardly knows him and doesn't particularly care for him. When she discovers she's pregnant and has that ring on her finger, she thinks her life is made. But happily-ever-after might not be in the cards for Sally.
I read this book as part of an online book club hosted by Gayle at Everyday I Write The Book. I've read several books with the group and, while they haven't always been my favorites, we always read books that provoke discussion and challenge me to read out of my usual comfort zone. Sadly, this one didn't live up to that standard for me despite having great potential.
Semple is, herself, a successful television screenwriter, known for her satire. She does poke plenty of fun at the lifestyle of the rich and famous in this book (Violet keeps spending money in a Hermes store simply because she feels obligated to the salesman who's been diligently looking for a particular hat for her for years) and she takes no prisoners among her characters as she mocks their values. Done well, that works for me--Evelyn Waugh's writing comes to mind. But Semple has created characters that I didn't like and didn't understand to begin with.
It's hard to feel sorry for someone like Violet who seems to have it all, but I actually could sympathize with her at the beginning. There's a certain truth to the "be careful what you wish for, you just might get it" adage. It's what Violet gave up along the way that brings her down. Sure she chose to give it up but we don't always realize what the consequences of our choices will be until it's too late. I could have bought into the idea of Violet being drawn into an affair. But with Teddy? I get that Semple wanted to throw Violet into a relationship with someone that other people in her group might look down their noses at. But there was nothing about this guy that seemed in the least bit enticing. He smelled, he was dirty, he made inappropriate remarks in public, he was a currently clean junkie who had contracted Hepatitis C through a dirty needle, and confesses to having impregnated numerous women because he refuses to use a condom. Oh, yeah, and he's something of a misogynist. What's not to love, right?
And Sally? I think the reader is supposed to feel sorry for her because she's had to deal with diabetes since she was a child and had to give up her career as a ballerina when a part of one toe had to be amputated. But there are a lot of people out there that deal with diabetes on a daily basis but becoming a shallow, screeching money grubber doesn't seem to be a symptom of the disease for most of them.
In addition to dealing with Hepatitis C and diabetes, Semple also includes characters that are dealing with autism and I started to feel like the discussion of these issues was meant to raise the book to a higher level. But it all just seemed like too much to me. And even though not everyone lived happily ever after, the ending was tidier than I usually enjoy.
Semple's writing holds great promise; there were frequently passages and pieces that I thought were spot on.
"One time, as an experiment, Violet had decided to only listen to what he said, and never bring anything up about herself. After a couple of days, he grew depressed and became hostile toward her. Still he had never asked a single question about her day or how she was...The whole thing taught her to everyday volunteer something about herself. Even knowing it would be met with indifference."
How true is this? "Stay happy," he said. "You twinkle when you're happy."
And this statement about a couple who's been married a long time: "We're partners who love each other."
Those little gems have me holding out hope that Semple will keep writing and that her next effort will feature more of them. Thanks to Gayle for allowing me to be part of the discussion. Can't wait to head over to her blog to see what others thought of this one.