Monday, April 30, 2007

"Happiness Sold Separately" by Lolly Winston

Elinor and Ted Mackey are in crisis mode. Not only are they not able to get pregnant, Ted has turned to another woman. He is having an affair with his fitness instructor, Gina Ellison. Elinor has just found out about the affair as the book opens, and the novel follows them as they try to mend their marriage.

Elinor retreats to her mother's for a while to think things through. Ted tries to stay away from Gina, but finds it difficult. Making matter worse are Gina's son, Toby, who has returned to live with his mother after his new stepmother decides she doesn't want him underfoot. Toby takes an immediate liking to Ted, who agrees to tutor him in math. Ted comes to enjoy spending his tutoring evenings with Toby and Gina, who makes them a home-cooked meal after each session. Now Ted is not only cheating on Elinor with Gina, but also with a ten-year-old boy.

Elinor decides to take up with the tree surgeon who shows up one morning to tell her her oak tree is diseased and will be removed by the city. She thinks of him like a tree - he is tall and strong. She also realizes that Roger, the boy she's hired to clean her house, has a huge crush on her. She offers to look at his portfolio for him; he's really a photographer but hasn't completed his final project and doesn't want to take some stupid job clicking pictures of school kids. Roger leaves behind strange objects in the beds of the people he cleans for, mostly to try to jolt them out of their boring lives.

The novel takes some unusual twists and turns as each character comes to be involved in the others' lives. Everything is intertwined by the end of the book, and the resolution isn't wrapped up in a nice little neat package.

While I loved "Good Grief", Winston's first novel, I can only muster mild enthusiasm for "Happiness Sold Separately". I'm not sure why, but I think I have a few reasons for it, the first being that there are way too many flawed characters for one book. Don't get me wrong, I think it's good for characters to have a few flaws here and there. Face it, folks, Prince Charming does NOT exist. But these people - they made me soooooooooo tired! I kept thinking "These are adults? These are grown-ups? They ALL are this messed up?" The only "normal" person in the bunch is Elinor's neighbor and best friend, Kat, and believe me, I found myself wanting her to have much more page time. Pretty much every character on the canvas needed some serious therapy time.

The other reasons probably have to do more with the subject matter, which is mostly infidelity and children. I can't really relate on either count. I know it can be difficult for some women when they desperately want children and can't have them. Knowing that doesn't make it easier for me to be sympathetic, though, as I personally have never wanted children nor have I wanted to be a mother. That makes it hard to relate to Elinor, who wants the child she can't have, and Gina, who has a child that doesn't want her. I've not gone through the pain of infidelity, nor do I worry about it, so relating to that plot line was also difficult. I just found myself feeling ambivalent about these people and their problems, which made me sad. I really wanted to like them, but they just weren't likable!

I'll wait and see what Ms. Winston puts out next. If it looks more like her first book, I'll gladly pick it up. If, however, it looks to be more of this line of writing, I'll pass. Sorry, but why waste time reading about people that you don't like, and that in the end, depress you?

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