This One is Mine by Maria Semple (2008)

“Maria Semple writes with comic brilliance in this smart, compassionate, wickedly funny take on our need for more — and the sometimes disastrous choices we make in the name of happiness.” From the book jacket of This One is Mine

This One is Mine

Maria Semple has written a truly extraordinary novel in This One is Mine. It is populated with richly drawn characters; whose stories are compelling, intense, and reflective of some of the best and worst of human nature; and told throughout with smart, crisp, funny voice that is unique to Semple. This first novel of hers is grittier, edgier, and darker than her two more recent best-sellers, Where Did You Go Bernadette? and Today Will Be Different (reviewed here http://wp.me/p6N6mT-1mx ) and does not rely, as those two novels do, on gimmicky multi-textural elements.  This novel is simply a dynamic story told by a master storyteller, whose insight into the desperation of people chasing down their version of “happiness” is spot on.

Violet and David Parry are an LA power couple, immensely rich and widely envied for their lavish lifestyle and celebrity friends. They are also deeply unhappy in their marriage, teetering on the edge of divorce, and unable to communicate with one another about simple things…and certainly not about what is happening to their marriage. David finds himself disgusted with his wife’s descent from edgy TV writer and intellectual into a deeply depressed stay-at-home mother whose only past-time — he believes — is spending his money.

Violet also does not recognize herself, physically and mentally emptied by post-partum depression and her husband’s increasingly cruel emotional abuse. She is woken up from her numbness when she meets Teddy, a ex-junkie, musician, and sex addict who makes her feel alive with his obsession with her. Through Teddy, Violet once again is reminded of the smart, creative, sexy woman she used to be; the reawakening of those feelings are like a drug to her. Suddenly, she is doing anything and everything for Teddy, including risking her marriage and custody of her daughter to pursue him and make him love her. The worse Teddy treats her, the riskier her behavior grows, and her discretion vanishes.

On the edges of Violet and David’s life flits David’s younger sister Sally. Sally is gorgeous and sexy, desperate to land a rich husband so she can live a life more like her brother and his wife. In fact, she is so obsessed with creating her “ideal” life that she has become unhinged; mistreating friends, lying to men, and constantly scheming ways to get more of everything she feels is owed to her. Her lies and manipulations lead to disastrous consequences, from which Violet and David are forced to rescue her.

The characters in the novel are all so desperate for a different, better, more perfect life that they begin to destroy themselves in the name of having it all. Semple’s intelligence and wit are on clear display in her writing, as is her wide-reaching knowledge of current events and her startling astute grasp of human nature…at its best and its worst. This book was outstanding; unique, sad, funny, awful, and hopeful all at once, and I could not put it down.

 

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple (2016)

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When Eleanor Flood wakes up on October 8th, she vows that today will be different. Mired down in the haze of a depression that she recognizes but has no motivation to treat; seeing the way her indifference and malaise effects her husband and son but unable to change, the things Eleanor hopes to make different on this day are small and simple things. She sets out to engage more with her son, infuse a small bit of romance into date-night, and perhaps be slightly more gracious to an annoying acquaintance. Eleanore gets her wish, her day does end up different. However, the magnitude of ways that her day is very, very different than usual catch her completely off-guard and shake up her entire life.

“I don’t meant to ruin the ending for you, sweet child, but life is one long headwind. To make any kind of impact requires self-will boarding on madness. The world will be hostile, it will be suspicious of your intent, it will misinterpret you, it will inject you with doubt, it will flatter you into self-sabotage. What the world is, more than anything,? It is indifferent.”

The shell-shocked state that Eleanor has lived in for so long — self-cushioned from too much involvement or attachment in order to protect herself when it all falls apart — is cracked wide-open and there is no escaping the emotions, the memories, and the heartache that this day has in store for her. She is being forced to face the truth of her life and herself and deal with everything she has so artfully avoided, head on.

As the day presents Eleanor with one bizarre challenge after another, she finds she can no longer dodge her growing list of problems — personal, professional, martial — and so, in her own messy clumsy way she begins unpacking all of the things she has worked so, so hard to suppress.

“Building a wall around the past: it seemed like the only solution at the time. And for years, it had worked. But today the wall had kinda buckled.”

What happens to her is that she must accept her flaws, and how they have affected the people around her, even though it is terrifying and painful. She feels “the ache of the myriad of ways she has disappointed” her family. Her detachment had created a rift between her and her husband; between her and her son; and between her and the world she fought so hard to keep from causing her pain. October 8th will be the day she finally takes a step towards closing the rift, a step towards making things different.

“If underneath anger was fear, then underneath fear was love. Everything came down to the terror of losing what you love.”

Just as she did in her best-seller Where Did you Go Bernadette?, Maria Semple has created a main character who is definitely flawed, most likely crazy, but still undeniably lovable. Eleanor’s story is complicated and winding, filled with wonderfully funny moments and achingly tender ones as well. You understand Eleanor’s neuroses and confusion (even if it her flavor of crazy is foreign to you), because Semple’s outstanding writing makes you feel and understand them so poignantly. You cannot help rooting for Eleanor to make her day, and her life, different.