Review 1813: Literary Wives! I’m Fine and Neither Are You

Today is another review for the Literary Wives blogging club, in which we discuss the depiction of wives in fiction. If you have read the book, please participate by leaving comments on any of our blogs.

Be sure to read the reviews and comments of the other wives!

Literary Wives Needs Your Help!

Recently, we’ve had some members resign, and we will miss them. Now we feel we are getting a little small for a club unless we can recruit a few new members. If you are interested in becoming one, please let one of us know.

What Does Membership Involve?

Although we started out as all wives, that’s not a requirement. Now we would just like people who are interested in reading and discussing how literature depicts wives and marriage. You will need to have your own blog on which to post your reviews so that we can link to it. We read four books a year and try to post our reviews on the same day. These days are the first Monday in March, June, September, and December.

When Would I Begin Working with the Club?

Our next book review isn’t until June, so it’s up to you to decide how much time you need to finish the book. However, right now, we are just beginning to select books for the next couple of years. Members are more engaged at this time in looking at lists of books, reading about them, and voting for their choices. We only do this every other year, but we will begin this process as soon as we get new members.

My Review

What seems at first to be a funny chick lit novel becomes a little more serious with a plot twist. Lately Penelope Ruiz-Kar feels like she’s barely keeping her head above water. She’s the main supporter of her family while her husband Sanjay sells an occasional article. But her job as a fundraiser for a university is stressful and requires a lot of overtime. (Although, just a little comment. The character mentions 50 hours a week, which for people in high tech is not a lot of overtime. Things are changing, though, which is good.) Sanjay doesn’t pick up much of the slack at home, and her youngest child, Miles, wakes her up every night, having wet his bed. She just feels exhausted.

She envies her best friend Jenny Sweet, who seems to lead a perfect life. Although Jenny’s husband Matt travels a lot for work, he seems to adore her, and they are financially better off than the Kars. But Penelope’s illusions are shattered when Jenny dies of an accidental overdose of opiates. Penelope wonders how she could not have noticed that Jenny was in trouble.

When Matt tells Penny that his marriage was in terrible shape despite appearances, she begins to think she needs to work on hers. After a discussion with Sanjay, they decide to give each other a list of things they would like the other to change. I wonder how they thought that would turn out?

This novel is entertaining and well written, but despite a few glitches at first, it went for too easy resolutions. Everyone should have such a near-perfect husband. The end result felt like chick lit after all.

What does this book say about wives or the experience of being a wife?

Literary Wives logo

Pagán picks a common problem—the difficulties of a working mother. And these difficulties seem realistically portrayed, especially for a woman whose husband’s role as a house husband has largely lapsed without his taking on other duties. This is a fairly good marriage despite the couple’s difficulties, because Sanjay reacts reasonably to Penny’s suggestions (there are many husbands who wouldn’t), and even though they’re in a slump, he’s affectionate to her. It is actually Penny’s personal problem that interferes most with her job and at home, and that’s her pretending everything is okay and not asking for what she needs.

The miracle, and the thing that seems a little unrealistic to me, is that when she begins asking, she begins getting what she needs.

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Review 1764: Literary Wives! The Summer Wives

Today is another review for the Literary Wives blogging club, in which we discuss the depiction of wives in fiction. If you have read the book, please participate by leaving comments on any of our blogs.

Be sure to read the reviews and comments of the other wives!

Eva of Paperback Princess
Lynn of Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi of Consumed By Ink

* * *

In the summer of 1951, young Miranda Schuyler arrives on Winthrop Island for her mother’s wedding to Hugh Fisher. There, she is immediately drawn to the young fisherman, Joseph Vargas, one of the lower class full-time population of the island that is in summer also occupied by the wealthy elite. She doesn’t care about his social position, but her new stepsister, Isobel, claims him for her own despite being engaged to someone else.

In the summer of 1930, a very young and naïve Bianca Medeiro falls madly in love with Hugh Fisher. She does not understand how he views their relative social positions and believes that having sex with him means they are spiritually married, despite his engagement to another girl.

In the summer of 1969, Miranda, now a movie star, returns to the island, where she has been a pariah since the events of 1951. Slowly, we learn what happened back then and what led to Joseph’s imprisonment for the murder of Hugh Fisher.

My Review

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First, I have to say that this is absolutely not my kind of book, so I only read it because it was a selection for Literary Wives. I have read one other book by Beatriz Williams, but I’m guessing it was improved by being a collaboration with two other writers, Lauren Willig and Karen White. The Summer Wives is definitely chick lit, which I do not read, so I will attempt to comment on the other aspects of it.

The plot develops so slowly that I considered quitting about page 50, when nothing much had happened except girls swooning over boys. I was about at page 5 when I thought I knew every secret that was going to be revealed, and I was just about right, barring that by then only a few of the characters had appeared. I also expected more of a sense of what the island looked like and who the characters were, but they were very much one- or maybe two-dimensional.

The dialogue was uninteresting, and the writing was either fairly mundane or overstated. For example, Bianca is stunned at being given gin to drink, not surprised, not startled, but stunned.

The novel picked up a little at the end, but had a frankly unbelievable ending. And what is this fascination chick lit books seem to have with wealth? The novels all seem to be about rich people or poor girls brought into worlds of wealth. So, of course, Miranda’s mother marries a wealthy man and despite Miranda having been ostracized from the family at a young age, she doesn’t become just an actress but a movie star.

What does this book say about wives or the experience of being a wife?

Well, really not much. Despite its title, the novel isn’t really about wives so much as a series of illicit relationships and love affairs. In fact, the word “wives” is used ironically, I think. Bianca considers herself married to Hugh despite his engagement to another woman and is shocked when he actually marries her. The marriages that are depicted are all in some sort of dysfunction. Hugh Fisher and Bianca Medeiro marry others but cheat their spouses throughout their marriages. Miranda has just left her abusive husband who, of course, is a movie director. Another middle-aged wife has been seducing the young men on the island. These are not sincere depictions of marriage but stereotypes, and I find nothing much to say about them.

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Review 1338: Eligible

Cover for EligibleSo far, the Austen Project, for which current writers rework Jane Austen’s novels within a modern framework, hasn’t worked for me. I have a theory that the readers who like them are reading mostly for plot, whereas I read Austen for her quick but subtle wit and her precision. Let’s face it, although humor is always in style, these days subtlety is not. Still, I thought I’d give Eligible, Curtis Sittenfeld’s reworking of Pride and Prejudice, a try.

Obviously, some of the dilemmas in the original novel are just not workable in today’s society, a problem that foundered Joanna Trollope’s reworking of Sense and Sensibility. Sittenfeld is wise enough to realize this and has made significant changes to the characters and plot.

Liz Bennett is a magazine writer who lives in New York. She and her sister, Jane, a yoga instructor, have returned to their home town, Cincinnati, to help out after Mr. Bennett’s heart attack. Their help is needed even though their three younger sisters, suffering from failure to launch, are still living at home, because they are doing nothing. Mrs. Bennett, a social climber, is too involved in running a charitable event to take her husband to his doctor’s appointments.

Jane is pushing forty, so she started in vitro fertilization before returning home. Then she meets Chip Bingley at a charity event. Jane and Chip immediately become involved, but Liz has formed a negative impression of Chip’s friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy, because of remarks she overhears at a party.

Liz has been involved for years with Jasper, a man she fell in love with in her early 20’s. Jasper claims he has an open marriage, and he has been seeing Liz on the side. When Jasper hears Liz has met Darcy, he hints at some misbehavior of Darcy’s when the two attended Stanford together.

Of the Austen Project novels I’ve read, this is the most successful rewrite, but the bar is fairly low. Although the dialogue is humorous, it’s not the sparkling dialogue of the original. Kitty and Lydia, for example, are almost unbelievably vulgar and poorly behaved. It’s also hard for me to believe that these days a mother would be pushing marriage after Jane and Chip have only had a few dates.

I was fairly well entertained, though, until the emphasis went to the Eligible reality show. Although I’m sure Sittenfeld had fun with her parody, that’s where I felt the novel lost steam.

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Day 1062: Today Will Be Different

Cover for Today Will Be DifferentI so much enjoyed Where’d You Go, Bernadette that I was really looking forward to Today Will Be Different. That said, this novel bears many of the same characteristics as the previous one while lacking its originality of expression.

Like Bernadette, Eleanor Flood is also a once-successful professional who is now leading a depressed life as a Seattle housewife and mother. At one time she lived in New York and was the animation director for a successful cartoon series. After the series was cancelled, she agreed to move to Seattle for ten years for her husband’s career as a hand surgeon and sports team doctor. She has been depressed because of her alienation from her sister, Ivy.

The morning of the story, she wakes up determined to do better. Soon she notices that her husband, Joe, is behaving oddly. She thinks she has a lunch appointment with an annoying friend only to realize it’s with a man she once fired from her show. And her eight-year-old son Timby is faking illness to get out of school.

When Eleanor takes Timby to Joe’s office, she finds that he has told his employees the family is on vacation. Where is Joe and what is he up to?

One of my issues with this novel is how most of Eleanor’s problems get solved in one day. Of course, this novel is meant to be light and funny, so something like that has to happen. I guess it’s more my problem with a whole genre of fiction. Still, I felt sympathy with Eleanor and liked most of the characters. I missed the zingers about Seattle from Bernadette, which I understood even though I have only been there a few times. Instead, Semple replaces this kind of thing with Eleanor blaming herself for her New York sense of superiority.

So, a middling review for this one.

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Day 592: Literary Wives! Wife 22

Cover for Wife 22Today is another meeting of Literary Wives, where a group of bloggers read and discuss depictions of wives in fiction.

* * *

I guess by definition chick lit is predictable, so perhaps it is unfair to criticize Wife 22 because I could tell where it was going before it got there. Still, I do criticize it for that, although it is well written, has funny, believable dialogue, and is quite enjoyable to read.

Alice Buckle is feeling a little dissatisfied with life. She has a handsome husband, but he has seemed withdrawn of late. She is often at loggerheads with her fifteen-year-old daughter, although she is very close with her younger son. She enjoys her work as a drama teacher at an elementary school. Still, the spark is gone between her and her husband.

She is invited by email to take part in a survey about marriage. To maintain anonymity, she is assigned a login of Wife 22 and a caseworker, Researcher 101. She finds it exciting to have a harmless secret and cathartic to answer the questions.

But it isn’t too long before the two are emailing each other outside the survey. Alice feels as if Researcher 101 really listens to her and understands her. Soon, she is fighting to keep herself out of an emotional affair. The situation is made more difficult because her husband William has abruptly lost his job.

I liked all the characters in this novel except the one I wasn’t supposed to like. However, I seldom read chick lit and again, I felt that this novel was predictable.

Literary Wives logoWhat does the book say about wives or about the experience of being a wife? In what way does this woman define “wife”—or in what way is she defined by “wife”?

I have to admit this portrait of a modern wife is more well rounded than we have seen in some other books. Alice is a failed playwright—her one produced play was a flop—but she really enjoys her job working with children. As a mother, she is actively engaged with her children, although inclined to worry unnecessarily and feel inadequate. Her relationship with her husband is friendly but a bit distant. When she tries to feel him out about emotional issues, he is abrupt and dismissive. In this regard, she is needy, letting a feeling of being unloved and inadequate prevent her from dealing honestly with her husband. I’m not sure, though, that any of this says something about being a wife. I feel as if this novel comments more on marriage itself and what can happen to it if it’s allowed to grow stale. There are problems between Alice and her husband, but her husband also has his own troubles that Alice is too preoccupied to pay attention to.

The Wives

Be sure to read the reviews and comments of the other wives!

Day 586: Wit’s End

Cover for Wit's EndRima Lansill finds herself suddenly without a family. Both her parents are dead: her mother when she was young and her father just recently of cancer. It is not so much her father’s death that has rocked her, though, but that of her younger brother Oliver in a drunk-driving accident. Rima is upset enough to want to get away from Cleveland for awhile, so she is happy to accept the invitation of her godmother to stay at her house of Wit’s End in Santa Cruz, California.

Rima’s godmother is the famous mystery writer A. B. Early—Addison—whose sleuth is Maxwell Lane. Rima has read all of Addison’s books but has never actually met her, as there was some sort of rift between Addison and Bim, Rima’s father. Rima wonders if it was caused by Addison having used Bim’s name for the murderer in one of her books.

Taking sleuthing tips from Maxwell Lane himself, Rima decides to try to find out what happened and just what her father’s relationship to Addison was. Addison herself is not very forthcoming, but some letters Rima finds in Maxwell’s fan mail show knowledge of the real Bim, not the fictional murderer. And these letters arrived from the home of what used to be a cult.

I have now read three Fowler novels, and they all construct an interesting tale full of well-meaning characters (although We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves leaves the others in its dust). There are some alarming moments in Wit’s End, but mostly what it offers is comfort and a new home for the main character. I have categorized it as a mystery, but the mystery is really only something to hang the characters and atmosphere on, as the book club is in The Jane Austen Book Club. Wit’s End is a fun bit of very light reading.


Day 568: Bridget Jones Mad About the Boy

Cover for Bridget Jones Mad about the BoyAt first, the breezy, dippy tone of Bridget Jones Mad About the Boy is a little disconcerting. Bridget sounds just like her dingy 30-year-old self, but she is now 51. Eventually, though, I was happy to renew my acquaintance with her.

Bridget is struggling to raise two small children on her own, Mark Darcy having died five years before. She also is lonely and misses Mark. Her friends decide it is time she starts dating again. Her technological and dating misadventures are complicated by her bumbling attempts to cope with school functions, for which she is always late, her efforts to write a screenplay, and her encounters with Mr. Wallaker, the teacher who Bridget believes disapproves of her.

The bulk of the novel, though, concerns Bridget’s relationship with Roxster, her 29-year-old boyfriend. This coupling provides food for flashes of insecurity and lots of cougar (and fart) jokes.

We get to spend time with many old friends of Bridget, including Daniel, Bridget’s old love interest, who has turned out almost predictably, still chasing women but now also babysitting (ineptly). This is fluff, but fun fluff, and I think it is a little better than the second Bridget Jones book. It is amusing to revisit Bridget’s world, and we occasionally have a tear in our eyes.



Day 519: Northanger Abbey

Cover for Northanger AbbeyNorthanger Abbey seems to be the Austen novel people like least. Perhaps this is because Catherine Morland is an ordinary girl, naive and not overly bright, so the opportunity for witty conversation is lost. But Austen has some fun with the fad for Gothic novels at the time. One of young Catherine’s misadventures results from her dreaming up a lurid past for her new friends’ family, her imagination influenced by her choice of reading. Austen also creates some broadly comic characters in the greedy and crass Isabella and John Thorpe.

When I learned that Val McDermid was attempting an update, I was intrigued, because McDermid is better known for her chilling thrillers. She places her updated version of the novel in Edinburgh during the festival. This could have been an inspired choice if she had made more use of the setting.

Cat Morland is attending the festival as the guest of her neighbors, the wealthy Allens. She meets Bella Thorpe, who befriends her because she likes Cat’s brother James (although this is not of course obvious to Cat). Bella’s brother John in turn begins pursuing Cat. Cat, though, is already interested in Henry Tilney, son of General Tilney, the owner of Northanger Abbey.

Much of the plot of Austen’s original book rides on the Thorpes’ assumption that Catherine is the Allens’ heir. McDermid implies a similar motive for their friendliness.

McDermid has not changed the plot of Austen’s novel in any major respect, except for the reason why General Tilney throws Cat out of the house in the middle of the night. In that instance, she chooses to pursue a theme that has been cropping up a lot in her later fiction, and the choice is unfortunate. She has set us up to expect something else, and the motive she chooses doesn’t fit in well with anything that has already happened. It is clear that General Tilney is unusually friendly with Cat because he thinks she is wealthy, so to alter the reason for this dramatic scene at the last moment throws us off.

Although the novel seems promising at first, with some witty observations about the festival attendees, we soon fall into the banalities of conversation and texts between vapid young women. Cat just loves vampire fiction and actually believes vampires might exist. You can see where this might lead in terms of the original novel, if McDermid had given it a bit of a twist. I am sick of vampire fiction, but I was almost hoping one would appear in the darkness of an Edinburgh street.

http://www.netgalley.comCat and the Tilney siblings are likable, but Cat doesn’t capture my sympathy as much in her current guise. Again, I’ll stick with Austen.

Just as a side note, those wily internet marketers must have noticed my searches for Northanger Abbey, because I got an email about the Complete Northanger Horrid Novel Collection. This collection includes all of the gothic novels referred to in Austen’s novel. All mine on my iPad for a mere $.99! Well, why not? I’ll be reporting back later.



Day 507: My Wish List

Cover for My Wish ListMy Wish List is very popular in France and was just recently released in English. It is narrated by Jocelyne, a middle-aged woman who is feeling she missed something in life when the novel begins. She runs a fabric store and keeps a blog about sewing and knitting that is gaining a large audience. Still, she feels unsatisfied with her life and with her husband Jo, who has not always been kind to her.

Then Jocelyne wins more than $18 million Euros in the lottery. She is cautious about her money, not sure what to do about it or how it will change her life. Although she begins making lists about how she could spend the money, she hides the check in a shoe in her closet and doesn’t tell anyone she has won it.

Although I supposed this novel would be light and fluffy, it is more thoughtful than that. It is not in any way deep, but it does examine the question of whether money can buy happiness. Its outcome is unexpected.

http://www.netgalley.comIn the novel we get to know Jocelyne and to like her. The other characters are more sketchily drawn. Delacourt writes in the present tense, which can be a poor choice but in this case lends it a jaunty flavor even when the mood is somewhat somber. I found this novel mildly enjoyable.

Day 457: Sense & Sensibility

Cover for Sense & SensibilityIn general I’m not a fan of the plethora of Jane Austen rewrites, although I will occasionally read one by an author whose work I trust. Such is the case with Joanna Trollope, who writes realistic contemporary fiction about family situations. So, I thought I’d give her reworking of Sense and Sensibility a try.

The story is a familiar one. The Dashwood women are ousted from their family home when the girls’ half brother John inherits. His selfish wife Fanny quickly talks him out of the generosity he promised his father he would show to his father’s second family.

Elinor Dashwood is in love with Fanny’s brother Edward Ferrars, but Edward’s future is uncertain. He has not spoken, so Elinor keeps her feelings to herself. Her sister Marianne, however, throws herself wholeheartedly and recklessly into an affair with handsome John Willoughby, who is visiting his aunt, a neighbor of their new home.

The reworkings I’ve read generally have some twist or contemporary slant to put on the story. In Bridget Jones’ Diary, for example, it was the surprise of finding you are reading an update of Pride and Prejudice and the charming narrative style of Bridget. Unfortunately, aside from updating the story to the current time, I don’t feel that this novel has much to add to or say differently than the original.

More importantly, I’m not sure that this novel translates very well to the 21st century, or at least not this version of it. The amount of money the Dashwoods are left would sound like a lot to most people, unlike the paltry amount left to them in the original novel, and the girls can always get a job in the current time period. Marianne’s behavior, while shocking to a 19th century audience, where ladies did not reveal their feelings for young men until they received a proposal, is mostly just excessive in the current day, except for the lovers’ behavior when visiting Willoughby’s aunt’s house. And while Edward in the original novel was behaving scrupulously in a time when a gentleman did not end an engagement, in the current times Ed just comes off as weak and indecisive. Frankly, I found myself sometimes wishing that Trollope would change the end of the novel to have Elinor end up with Bill.

I enjoyed the novel to an extent, but this modern version doesn’t involve me as the original does. The scene where Ed finally proposes to Elinor left me dry-eyed. Sense and Sensibility is one of my favorite Austen novels, and I think I’ll stick to Austen.