Maria Semple — This One Is Mine; Back Bay Books, March 2010

Maria Semple — This One Is MineI’ve actually been dying to read this book ever since I read Where’d You Go, Bernadette back in the spring and loved everything about it. This One Is Mine is Maria Semple’s first novel, and it follows what is essentially the mid-life crisis of Violet Grace Parry, a former TV writer who lives in a gigantic house on Mulholland Drive in LA with her music producer husband and toddler daughter.

Semple, a former TV writer and producer, worked on shows like Mad About You, Arrested Development, and Ellen, so there is a ring of authenticity to Semple’s descriptions of lavish LA lifestyles. When you find out Violet has retired from TV writing to have a kid in her early 40s—another “can women really have it all?” narrative—you get the feeling that Semple really understands why this character would do such a thing. (Semple gave birth to a daughter in 2003, and hasn’t worked in TV since 2006, according to her IMDB page.)However, I didn’t really find that I understood why Violet would throw away her nice life on a guy she met while crying on the floor of the men’s bathroom. Like, if you’re going to make your character do something completely reprehensible, you better make sure there’s a damn good explanation for it. I just didn’t feel like this rich lady’s ennui was relatable or interesting. Which is terrible on Semple’s part, because Violet is a really good character! She’s smart and witty and she tries really hard to take care of people; I don’t think she’s as careless as her husband asserts in their arguments. She just seems lost, but I didn’t think that narrative (“stir-crazy, unappreciated stay-at-home mom goes off the chain”) was particularly compelling.

The characters in this book were excellent, though, even though I hated most of them. I liked Sally’s chapters the most, I think; she was just so ridiculous and desperate, it was both depressing and entertaining to watch her attempt to get Jeremy to put a ring on it. David, Violet’s husband and Sally’s brother, was a complete asshole to Violet, but the chapters from his perspective were interesting because they explained his feelings about Violet and why he was lashing out, and how he eventually regretted it. Teddy, though… he could be really charming at times, especially at the beginning, but mostly I found him pathetic, and I found Violet stupid for getting involved with him (and dragging her whole family into it). I wish there had been more contact between Violet and Jeremy, because I found the scene at the wedding to be really touching.

I will say that Semple is great at setting the scene—the descriptions of LA and the Parrys’ beautiful home were some of my favorite parts to read. She’s also adept at satirizing the extremely rich and the lengths to which they will go to be parted from their money (Sally’s ballet classes, Violet dropping an unbelievable amount of money on a plot of land, the $700 boot store). I was also impressed at how she talked about autism, abortion, diabetes, and hepatitis C—using fiction to normalize things that are taboo or misunderstood is important. That was definitely a large part of why the book drew me in. It’s just too bad that the main character’s motivations were so unclear.

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