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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Book Talk: *This One is Mine*, by Maria Semple

Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in order to participate in an online book club today, hosted at Everyday I Write the Book. *Purchasing links in this review will generate referral fees through my Amazon Associates account.

This One Is Mine: A Novel by
 Maria Semple
This One Is Mine: A Novel
Maria Semple
Back Bay Books (2010), Paperback (ISBN 031603133X / 9780316031332)
Fiction, 320 pages
Opening Lines: "David stood at the sink, a pine forest to his left, the Pacific Ocean to his right, and cursed the morning sun. It beat through the skylight and smashed into the mirror, making it all but impossible to shave without squinting. He had lived in Los Angeles long enough to lose track of the seasons, so it took glancing up at CBNC and seeing live images of people snowshoeing down Madison Avenue for it to register: it was the middle of winter."
Book Description: Violet Parry is living the quintessential life of luxury in the Hollywood Hills with David, her rock-and-roll manager husband, and her darling toddler, Dot. She has the perfect life--except that she's deeply unhappy. David expects the world of Violet but gives little of himself in return. When she meets Teddy, a roguish small-time bass player, Violet comes alive, and soon she's risking everything for the chance to find herself again. Also in the picture are David's hilariously high-strung sister, Sally, on the prowl for a successful husband, and Jeremy, the ESPN sportscaster savant who falls into her trap. For all their recklessness, Violet and Sally will discover that David and Jeremy have a few surprises of their own.

Comments: This One is Mine is a Los Angeles story - that is, it's a story of what many people who don't live in LA think LA is like. And while LA life probably is like this for some people, they're not people I come across too often. Granted, I live in the suburbs and have a job unrelated to the entertainment industry, but I'm more typical of LA than you'd think. However, the stories of LA people like me aren't nearly as interesting.

Maria Semple, a former scriptwriter, shifts the narrative of her first novel between two women who have one man in common. Violet Parry (also a former scriptwriter) is the wife of music impresario David Parry, and dance teacher Sally Parry is his sister. Violet gave up her career when her young daughter was born, and has all the leisure and material security she could possibly want, but she's lost her sense of herself. Sally wants at least some of what Violet has, and she's out to get it the old-fashioned way - marrying into it. She's set her sights on an up-and-coming sportscaster.

Violet never used to be a woman who looked to a man to define herself, but when she meets Teddy - musician, golfer, recovering (?) addict - in a museum restroom, he's so unlike anyone she knows - and seems to be so drawn to her, which she doesn't seem to feel from her husband lately - that she's completely energized; worlds have collided, and it's enough to make her consider completely revamping her life. Sally, on the other hand, is so ready to be defined by a husband that she sees her own plans more clearly than she sees Jeremy, the man she believes will fulfill them.

Semple lured me into the novel, gradually building it into something deeper by slowly revealing her characters. I found Violet mostly likable all the way along, although I certainly questioned some of her choices. I didn't immediately warm to Sally, but I kept hoping there was more to her and I'd get the chance to revise my opinion. Semple's writing served the story well; she kept me anxious to see what would go wrong next and surprised me at times. At the same time, she infused the novel with humor, although there were a few scenes that seemed like self-consciously comedic set pieces to me.

Semple's humor also comes across as she pokes fun at some of the more superficial, status-conscious behavior of LA life - which totally deserves it - but the satirical elements of This One is Mine aren't especially biting. For me, what comes across more strongly are themes of projection and insecurity - seeing what you need to see in other people in order to see a reflection of yourself, and being so focused on the roles you need other people to play in your own personal narrative that you lose sight of who those people actually are. I don't think that's a uniquely LA thin


g, but it probably is something that's stands out here, where egocentric behavior by deeply insecure people makes the news (or the gossip websites, at least).




I've seen some strong reviews of this novel and it's been on my wish list for awhile. I expected to like it a bit more than I did, which is never a great feeling, but I'm glad I read it. However, I liked the cover of the hardcover better, and I suspect that may have influenced my interest in reading it (in addition to the reviews, of course). Now there's some shallow LA behavior for you!

Rating: 3.25/5

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