Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Book 96: All We Ever Wanted Was Everything

All We Ever Wanted Was Everything by Janelle Brown

This was another recommendation over at Pandagon. This book could easily be described as chick lit - it's light, it's about three different women (a mother and two daughters, though the daughters are far enough spaced to be in completely different places in their lives and basically two separate generations), and it's about them trying to change certain situations in their lives. However, the term chick lit is incredibly generic and seems to pretty much apply to any fiction with young female protagonists - within the genre, there are some authors that take serious issues and deal with them in a rather realistic but funny way, thus taking some of the bite out of it, while others write basic fluff. Actually, that kind of reminds me of women's literature class I had in college - the professor argued that in earlier decades, women often used humor to vent some of their frustrations and anger with the world, citing novels such Life Among the Savages, while in later works women tended to internalize their anger against themselves, leading to several memoirs about anorexia and cutting. Perhaps, chick lit is a sign of improvement in that case.

Anyway, while it is a fun and light read, All We Ever Wanted doesn't take the traditional chick lit ending - not everyone gets their dream job and ends up with the right guy. The three women have faced certain things about themselves, and the novel is hopeful but there is still a long way to go and a lot of work to be done. The women are also more complicated then the stereotypes they embody and could so easily be treated as.

The novel starts on the day that Janice's husband Paul's company goes public. After years of living the good life in California, they are about to hit the really good life that all their neighbors enjoy. That evening, her husband sends her a letter, telling her their marriage is over and he's leaving her for her best friend. Her oldest daughter, Margaret, meanwhile, is in LA, and on the verge of bankruptcy - she is in debt, her magazine is failing, and she just lost the one potential investor she had. Her boyfriend broke up with her a few months ago, although no one in her family knows. When she hears about her mom's problems, she decides to go home to "help out" when in fact it's an opportunity to hide from creditors, avoid eviction and continue to enjoy life with gas and electricity. Lizzie, the youngest daughter and the miracle baby, is fourteen, and a freshmen in high school. After being chubby much of her life, dieting and swim team have helped her lose weight. After the weight loss, she started getting male attention which she wasn't used to, and misunderstood their interest in sex as interest in her - basically, as the book puts it, "she's become the school slut."

The three women all try different approaches to their problems, none of which involve confiding in each other or talking to each other - they basically live as three strangers in the house, not wanting to start fights or ruin anyone's expectations. Lizzie finds religion, Margaret sleeps and drinks her days away, and Janice uses crystal meth to help her keep it all together until even her dealer is trying to tell her she might have a problem.

I really enjoyed this book - it was a fun read but actually developed three dimensional characters that weren't just fluff. There was some hilarious scenes. One of the problems with some chick lit tends to be how unrealistic it is - "oh, the poor twenty something that can't afford her rent or Prada bag as a publicist" etc. Obviously, these women's lives are a little beyond anything I can relate to but it was still portrayed in a way that was rather relatable.

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