Wednesday, September 30, 2009

This One is Mine by Maria Semple

Flap copy from hardcover:
Violet Parry is not Anna Karenina. Witty, affectionate, and fearsomely resourceful when she wants to be, she's a modern woman who had traded a great job for a picture perfect Los Angeles life with her rock-and-roll manager husband David and their darling daughter. She can speak French, quote Sondheim, and whip up dinner from the vegetables in her garden. She has everything under control- except her own happiness. When David wakes one morning to find a dead gopher floating in the Jacuzzi, he expects Violet to take care of it- after all, she;s got nothing better to do. For Violet, the dead rodent become the symbol for everything wrong with her life. As she drives in the hills of Los Angeles, her sense of isolation grows with every curve. She has a chance encounter with Teddy Reyes, a roguish small-time bass player with a highly evolved sexuality. He shows an interest. That's all it takes. Heedless of consequences, Violet embarks upon her monomaniacal journey toward destruction.

Meanwhile, David's sister Sally, in great shape but pushing forty, is on a mission of her own to attain exactly the status and security which Violet is so quick to abandon. Nothing can stop her- as is discovered by the unfortunate bystanders in her path, and by Jeremy, the sportswriter-savant she's desperate to marry before he achieves the television celebrity she knows is his destiny.

Consumed with recklessness, Violet and Sally might be overlooking the possibility that David and Jeremy have some surprises of their own to deal out.

This well-written novel was surprisingly engaging, especially given that I didn't much like the characters when I started reading. As the story unfolded however, the motivations behind their actions became more clear, and I found myself reacting to them with much more empathy. Parts of the book were tragic while others were tragically funny; only in a book about Hollywood could entire plotline not seem a bit contrived.

Though I never fully understood Violet's attraction to Teddy, I could understand her frustration with her marriage and the life she found herself living. Sally initially appeared cold-hearted and calculating, but revelations about her health and the profound impact that had on her outlook on life gave her character unexpected depth. The revelation about her insurance, so life-altering to her and so unimportant to David, struck me as the most poignant moment in the book- I almost cried for Sally.

Semple has the voice and flavor of Hollywood life down pat, and this first novel tells a wonderful yet cautionary tale about the teeming depths beneath the surface lives of these characters. A strong 4 stars, I hope this novel is not the last we see from Semple.

1 comment:

maria said...

Thank you so much for the terrific review. I really, really appreciate it. I'm glad you liked that David/Sally moment about the health insurance.
Much love,