Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Monday, November 24, 2021

yours, mine, oursMy visit last month with Hachette Book Group’s Kelly Leonard continues to pay back — in reading material. In addition to the two books that Kelly herself gave for my review, her associate Miriam Parker sent along an additional new release. Below is my review for that one-more, Maria Semple’s “This One Is Mine”.

That Maria Semple’s first novel should concern itself with the vicissitudes of life in Los Angeles isn’t surprising, given that she’s spent a good chunk of her life there. Semple is a self-described refugee from Hollywood, having left behind an established résumé in television writing in favor of family life in the Pacific Northwest.

That desire for escape resonates among the characters in “This One Is Mine”: Escape from a loveless marriage, unfulfilled expectations, and self-destructive tendencies. Portraits of sad, damaged people set against a sparkling Southern California backdrop is familiar territory; Semple makes this story fresh and enlivening with her unique voice and brilliant pacing. However much personal experience she’s imbued into this book — and, just from comparing her prose with her abbreviated bio, it seems like a lot — she’s used it to provide a healthy dose of authenticity that balances an overall tragi-comic tone.

“Mine” centers mainly around Violet Parry, a burned-out new mother and former TV writer (essentially Semple’s fictional doppelganger). She’s in an advanced stage of post-postpartum depression, struggling with LA-allergic physical imperfections to go along with a void that a near-perfect child and lap-of-luxury lifestyle can’t fill. Eschewing better opportunities to rejuvenate herself, she latches onto an irrationally obsessive affair with Teddy Reyes, a down-and-out junkie musician. Violet’s determination to sabotage her marriage drives the story, keeping things delightfully off-balance as things unfold.

Violet is far from the only wounded animal inhabiting this landscape. Her husband, David, copes with his wild mood swings in reaction to his wife’s increasingly aberrant behavior, along with his personal weariness over a lifelong burden of responsibilities. His sister, Sally, provides a parallel narrative, as she strives for marriage, social-climbing, and a desire to emerge from David’s protective shadow. Thrown in for the ride are a conniving ex-boyfriend, an undiagnosed Asperger’s savant, yoga groupies, and a fake Kennedy — all, in one way or another, looking for liberation from their circumstances, with mixed (but entertaining) results.

Semple manages to capture the quirkiness of a modest cross-section of Los Angelenos without succumbing to outright farce. Even some of the more outlandish plot turns — especially Violet’s persistent relationship with Teddy — stay grounded thanks to the author’s deft intertwining of each character’s storylines into a tight, satisfying whole. If anything, I would have liked some of the subplots to have been expanded a bit, even if this would have sacrificed the brisk pace… Or maybe I simply wanted to keep on reading.

For a rookie, Semple has this beat down cold. “This One Is Mine” is an impressive telling of urban alienation, with a dark undertone tempered by fittingly improbable resolutions.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 11/24/2008 12:17:03 PM
Category: Book Review
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