Ciara's Reviews > The Underside of Joy

The Underside of Joy by Seré Prince Halverson
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Aug 26, 12

bookshelves: baby-pregnancy-infertility-parentin, read-in-2012
Read in June, 2012

it was probably unwise of me to read a novel about a blissfully happy woman married to her dream man, stepmother to his two delightful young children, living the good life in a charming little cottage in northern california, whose life is upended one day when her husband suddenly drowns. especially while i am pregnant. i already have a pathological fear of my partner dying in a freak accident; this book did me no favors in that department.

& i guess halverson read a few books about how your protagonists really need to confront conflict, because it wasn't enough to have this woman suddenly thrust into single motherhood & mourning. no, she had to discover that her husband was hiding from her the reality of how poorly his small independent grocery store was doing. it's deep in the red & she has no idea how she's going to claw her way out of the financial pit she is in. & to top things off, the kids' mother has suddenly reappeared, all composed & glamorous, & she's suing for custody.

the whole thing read like kind of a middling film that might have starred someone like katherine heigl before everyone decided she didn't like her. or maybe jennifer garner circa "13 going on 30". you'd think that with all this dark stuff happening, the book would have a darker tone, but instead, ella hatches a plan to turn the grocery into a picnic shop. called life's a picnic. her sassy gay brother-in-law, who has been suffering the life of the idle rich since he made a bucket of money during the dot-com era, will be the gourmet picnic chef. they will sell sandwiches, macaroni salads, artisanal soft drinks, you get the picture. a reclusive local artist will design a map of the area so tourists know the best places to picnic. it will be a whole family affair, with the grandparents getting involved in coming up with recipes & redecorating. it's just so...cheesy. & in this economy, it's really hard for me to imagine a shop like this being economically successful. especially in northern california, which does have seasons, several of which are not appropriate for picnicking. i mean...a picnic shop. an artisanal olive oil & vinegar store recently opened in my town & i thought that was fucking crazy because who the hell buys so much olive oil & vinegar that they would seek out a special shop for it? but a picnic store is perhaps an even worse idea.

& then, with the whole birth mom thing...turns out she abandoned the kiddos shortly after the second one was born because she was suffering from extreme post-partum depression. her own mother had experienced post-partum psychosis & horrifically abused her as an infant because of it. she was worried she would replicate this familial legacy so she legged it. a few months later, her husband met ella, moved her into the cottage, got a quickie divorce, & ignored all of his ex-wife's letters about how she was getting better & ready to be a mom again. this whole plotline took a serious & potentially interesting subject & turned it into something right out of a bad soap.

& don't even get me started on the whole italian american internment camp plotline. i don't know, man. this book was far more of a featherweight confection than i had bargained for, & not in a fun way.
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