May 212012
 

*I received this book from the publicist Big Honcho Media through Ballantine Books in exchange for an honest review.

Maybe it was because after almost twenty years of marriage my husband and I seemed to be running out of things to say to each other. But when the anonymous online study called “Marriage in the 21st Century” showed up in my inbox, I had no idea how profoundly it would change my life. It wasn’t long before I was assigned both a pseudonym (Wife 22) and a caseworker (Researcher 101). And, just like that, I found myself answering questions…

7. Sometimes I tell him he’s snoring when he’s not snoring so he’ll sleep in the guest room and I can have the bed all to myself.

61. He was cutting peppers for the salad. I looked at those hands and thought, I am going to have this man’s children.

32. That if we weren’t careful, it was possible to forget one another.*

At his business dinner one night, William, Alice Buckle’s husband, makes an offhand comment in front of his coworkers about Alice’s “smaller life” – he doesn’t intend to hurt her, but Alice, already uncomfortable in the business suit that doesn’t feel quite right, is thrown. Her life is already off kilter. Alice’s birthday will mark her as the same age as her mother when she died. And Alice’s life may be small, but it’s not inconsequential. She directs school theater. She raises two children. She meets with her grief support group. But her husband, the man she fell madly in love with, sees her life as small. Going online becomes Alice’s solace, so when she receives the survey on marriage, the questions allow her to open up and relive the closeness and love she once felt for her husband. But in sharing the answers with Researcher 101, she becomes fascinated by his position as anonymous reliquary for her deepest secrets and desires, and the further she feels from her life with William.

My thoughts: Alice is so funny. Wife 22 has been compared to Bridget Jones’s Diary, and I can see why. Alice is just a bit older than Bridge. She thinks her son may be gay and is a little overzealous in her acceptance. Her daughter is slim and hoards junk food, so she’s afraid she’s bulimic. Alice is so concerned that her mother’s death left her without the proper tools to be a mom, that she fails to see that she’s doing it and has done it and is ok.

And I know people bemoan the Internet, but right or wrong, it’s there for Alice in those moments when no one else is or can be, and watching Alice connect…to the Internet, with her husband, and with her children/friends is a humorous, fun, heart-rending ride. I absolutely raced through this book. I loved it. I’m not married, and I don’t have kids, but I can relate to Alice. She is completely imperfect. She can be selfish and negative and really silly at times, but let me tell you. Last week on Twitter I was complaining because my new jeans are too big. Too big. This is a problem I was begging for a month ago. So Alice? High five right here.

She, too, is self aware. She knows that she can be unreasonable and selfish, but unlike many of us, she owns it. She feels as though her life is converging on her, and she doesn’t apologize for it. Instead, she confesses, “When I’m in pain I want everyone I love on the island with me, sitting around the fire, getting drunk on coconut milk, banging out a plan.” I can get on board with that. Is it inconvenient? Selfish? To hell with it. Alice wants what she wants, and for the first time in a while, she’s not afraid to say it. Double high fives.

Annnd…Random House has generously offered up two copies of Wife 22 for two U.S. readers of the blog. All you have to do is ‘fess up…what’s the last romantic gesture someone made for you that made your knees go weak? [Giveaway runs until midnight central time on Friday, May 25, 2012.]

GIVEAWAY RESULTS: Congrats Debbie and Con! Check your email for details. Thanks to everyone who commented. :)

Preorder this (out 05/29/12) from Indiebound or for your Nook.

* Alice’s answers are listed sporadically, and the questions are at the end of the book. I never flipped and didn’t feel the need to. In fact, I think Gideon would have been better off leaving them off entirely, allowing the reader to wonder instead what Alice is saying with each response. In other words, don’t peek. Just leave it and enjoy the story.
P.S. Check out my post on Afterwards to see if you won the giveaway!

Aug 232011
 

*I received this book at BEA, courtesy of Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House. Buy it from Indiebound here.

For eight years I dreamed of fire. Trees ignited as I passed them; oceans burned. The sugary smoke settled in my hair as I slept, the scent like a cloud left on my pillow as I rose…. The sharp, chemical smell was nothing like the hazy syrup of my dreams; the two were as different as Indian and Carolina jasmine, separation and attachment. They could not be confused.

Separation and attachment. Victoria Jones has had much of the former and not much of the latter in her young life. Abandoned at the age of three weeks, Victoria was left to fend for herself with only her social worker Meredith to stand for her as family after family tells Meredith a different variation of “it’s just not working out.” Victoria’s final chance with Elizabeth, a woman who has suffered in her own way, gives her a glimpse of what having a mother is like, but Victoria, afraid to lose the only relationship she has ever valued, ends up in a group home anyway, only to be emancipated on her 18th birthday.

Without a support system, Victoria sleeps in the park, tending a small flower garden until she stumbles upon Renata, a florist in need of part-time help. Renata recognizes Victoria’s skill, and slowly Victoria’s skittishness dies away, until she meets a man at the flower market, a man who also knows the language of flowers and the secret of her past.

The Language of Flowers is a beautiful book, and once I picked it up, I could not stop reading. Motherhood is such a strong theme, but here is no story of glowing mothers-to-be; instead, motherhood is painful, full of sacrifices and hurts, which we glimpse as the 15 months Victoria and Elizabeth were together are told in flashbacks. Victoria is stunted in many ways, yet she understands far beyond her years, and in a sense, she is mothered by half a dozen women, younger and older, and she thrives because of this community.

Victoria’s story, and the way Diffenbaugh unfurls it, is intoxicating, as is the Victorian use of flowers and the messages Victoria weaves into her bouquets: jonquil for desire, hyacinth for constancy. Her only voice is in her flowers, and once she gives herself over to them, she comes into her own, rearranging her life and making space for Elizabeth when she needs her the most. And honestly, by the end of the book, if she and Elizabeth had not reconciled, I was fully prepared to bundle her up in a quilt (why a quilt??), cart her home, and feed her hot chocolate and cookies every day for the rest of her life.

Read: with a bit of dark chocolate and maybe a pear blossom branch (for comfort) by your side.

P.S. Here’s the link for the flower dictionary. I will definitely put more thought into my flowers in the future.


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