This One is Mine by Maria Semple
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
"Now she understood that there was a whole other dimension where love simply...was."
This is the second novel I've read by Maria Semple, and I have to say her books are very intriguing because they are, quite simply, different. Semple has a quirky, edgy vibe to her work that reads as raw, in-your-face, and real.
Violet Parry has the life everyone wants. She has a wealthy husband, a huge house, a beautiful daughter Dot, and everything her heart desires. There's just one big problem: She's not happy. Her marriage isn't quite what she thought it would be, and she finds herself bored with her life. When she meets Teddy, who is of a very different lifestyle than she is, Violet's world is turned upside down by the temptation of what she doesn't have.
In addition, this book follows Violet's sister-in-law as she also finds out what love means to her and what it doesn't mean. She tries to find herself and her identity through love.
I liked Violet as a character even though she makes horrible choices. There was something resonating about a woman who thought she knew what she wanted in life only to find out it isn't quite what she expected. We all have expectations of what will make us happy. Semple addresses the very difficult and sometimes taboo topic of: What do we do when what we thought would make us happy just doesn't? Violet is flighty, rash, and wanting things she doesn't have. I found her bad choices to be forgivable because Semple helps you understand where she is coming from. I didn't condone Violet's behavior and I am sure some readers actually hate her for what she did, but I just thought Semple was showing how life and especially love aren't these perfectly wrapped, boxed-in entities. People make bad choices. People get confused. People do things they aren't proud of. Violet is human in this book. I liked that.
I, however, found myself being harder on Sally. I found her to be very selfish, condescending, and frustrating. I did not really find her to redeem herself because of what she did. However, I think perhaps that is Semple's point as well. We are all willing to judge certain people for certain things, yet we can forgive others for equally wrong transgressions. Both females in this book have major, major flaws. It is interesting to see which, if any, character you are willing to forgive and why you are willing to do so.
This is what I like so much about Semple's works. They are complex, and their messages are winding. They make you think because it is clear they have depth, but it isn't always clear what that depth means. I found this book to be about identity and also how we judge others. I found this book to point out the idea you never truly know someone's life just by glancing from the outside viewpoint. I thought this book brought up interesting points about marriage, about love, and loyalty, and about drug abuse.
I did find the book to be very vulgar at points. Some of the dialogue was uncomfortable. For a portion of the book, I found it to be over-the-top, almost as if Semple was simply going for shock value. By the end, however, I could appreciate how the vulgarity contributed to character development and helped make the book raw and real. The real world isn't perfect and always comfortable. The real world has plenty of things that push us outside of our boxes. I can appreciate Semple's refusal to censor herself or her themes, even if they do push the envelope at times. Overall, I do not feel the vulgarity of some of the scenes detracts from the message. If anything, it adds to it.
I also appreciate that Semple's books are interesting. It's hard to explain what this means, but I find that her details are quirky and have an element of sophistication. From cultural references to tiny details, Semple's books definitely showcase her voice as a writer. I marvel at her ability to work in quirky details that truly make her a standout writer.
Overall, this is a good weekend read because it explores a less-rosy, much more complex view of love and marriage. I think sometimes it's good to read outside of the box and read books that challenge your views of different things. Even if you hate the characters' choices in this book, it makes you think about your own perspective of love, loyalty, and identity.
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