By Jill Teitelman Freestyle Press, Boston 2012 When Ruth Kooperman tells her friend Grace that her boyfriend proposed in the hardware store, her friend has a question. “Which aisle were you in? Grace wants to know. “Plumbing or electrical?” So goes the wise-cracking in this novel that reads like a memoir. It’s a first novel but clearly not the first literary effort by Boston-based writer Jill Teitelman. If it weren’t so funny, it could be called “The Baby Boomers Lament” because the protagonist, Ruth, opens the novel with the memorable lines, “Why didn’t I ask where the Women’s Lib train was going before I jumped on?” Approaching forty, Ruth has spent her adulthood thus far in gobbling up experiences – in travel, in jobs as interesting as they are short-term, and in boyfriends who share the same quality. She knows perfectly well that she’s short-changed her self-esteem by never letting go of the financial safety rope dangled before her by her parents, even as she cannot forgive her boorish father for his constant put-downs of her every move. No wonder she has never found the right man – each prospect her father meets gets the brush-off. Not only can her father not stand her friends, he belittles her for being so stupid as to select them – or whatever she is currently doing in life. But it seems that Ruth does have a talent for friendship with other women. In Rhonda, and later in Grace, Teitelman creates a portrait of besties through which Ruth can find her kindest self even as she envies her friends for their stability and contentment – states of being that she somehow seems to unable to achieve herself. She is nothing if not critical of herself as well as Jake, who becomes the father of the child she wants so desperately, and later of Marty, the man she marries at the age of fifty. Teitelman’s depiction of Ruth’s son, Joey, is also delightful. A terrific mother, she shows single motherhood in all its difficulties and joys. More self-aware than most women, possibly because she delayed motherhood so long, Ruth can sometimes irritate because she is discontented so much of the time. But then, her best friend gets sick, and Ruth discovers what grace truly means. Her friend’s ability to find joy in a simple life and to endure a terrible and unfair fate catapults Ruth into another plane of knowing. At times this book reads like a journal, and so it is not surprising to learn that Teitelman started it as a memoir, then turned it into fiction. Not your typical debut novel, I found it quite a page-turner.
By Liane Moriarty Kindle Edition, Penguin Books (first published 2009) Have I said that I am a fan of Liane Moriarty? I repeat. I am a huge fan of the Australian writer Liane Moriarty. She’s a prolific author – has written at least six novels and each one seems to climb to the best seller lists as soon as it is released in the US. Liane writes about everyday ordinary people – all right, everyday, upper middle class people in the suburbs of Sydney. She writes about mothers of school age children, and most often her books have several interweaving plot lines. Her characters are quite often deluded about their own and others’ secret lives, are very relatable and often funny. What Alice Forgot is the premise as well as the title of this book. Alice hit her head in a gym accident and when she wakes up, thinks it is 1998 instead of 2008. Was the previous century any better than the present one? It was simpler, certainly, in Alice’s muddled mind, and perhaps in Moriarty’s. (The author is almost the same age as her character.) In 1998 Alice was happily in love with her husband Nick, and pregnant with her first child. In 2008, she is amazed to find that she has to live with three rambunctious children, who people say are her own. She and Nick are separated and going to divorce. She doesn’t want this divorce at all, she thinks, as her memory comes back in sparks, like faulty wiring. She appears to have changed in the intervening ten years, and not just because of motherhood. As Alice’s memory returns in fits and starts we understand the stresses in her life that led to the present day. There is a lifetime of sudden loss in these memories, but just as we begin to think that Alice might be a tad self-indulgent in her sorrows, (Her husband has to work so hard!, being thin is so important!) we get into the parallel story of her sister, Elisabeth, who is undergoing fertility treatment, and has suffered miscarriage after miscarriage. Then there is Alice and Elisabeth’s ‘honorary grandmother” Frannie, who loves the girls as her own. Her loss is even greater than theirs. It all adds up to a sympathetic story, and this is what saves Moriarty’s characters. After all, a novel has to be about conflict and struggle. And on the surface, all Moriarty’s characters live in a world of privilege, Australian style – plenty of money, good public schools, sunny beaches accessible to everyone, welcoming coffee shops on every corner, and people living in a web of close family relationships. Still, she writes about serious subjects with humanity and humor and keeps the reader guessing about the ending till the end.