Sunday, July 29, 2012

Another Piece of my Heart

I've been reading Jane Green for years. She's one of the few contemporary authors that I've enjoyed throughout my entire twenties and now into my thirties. Her style and characters have changed from urban and gritty to suburban and neurotic, and her settings have gradually migrated from England to New England to the West Coast, but the essence of her writing remains the same: relationship-centered, deeply revealing and highly emotional.

In Another Piece of My Heart, forty-something Andi has finally settled down and married Ethan, a wonderful, loving man who also happens to be a divorced dad with an alcoholic ex and two daughters. One daughter, Sophia, is a pre-teen delight and bonds with Andi instantly. The other, Emily, is a teenage terror. She goes out of her way to make trouble between Andi and Ethan, trying to push her new stepmother away while making excuses for her alcoholic mother. Emily's acting out becomes more serious when she starts drinking heavily, doing drugs and experimenting with sex. The wedge between Andi and Ethan widens as Ethan seems unable to stand up to his daughter and Andi cannot tolerate the frequent tantrums and disruptions to their lives. The last straw comes when Emily gets pregnant at seventeen. Andi, who has wanted her own child since their marriage but was unable to conceive, sees this as an opportunity to make the family whole again, but Ethan balks, wanting to give the child up for adoption. The choice is made for them when Emily goes into early labor, decides to keep the baby, and then abandons him weeks later, running away and leaving him under Andi's care. For three years, there is peace, but then Emily returns, a little bit older and wiser, and makes a demand that Andi and Ethan cannot endure. 

The book is a strong, compelling read and completely typical of Green's aforementioned style: very insightful, very emotion-centered. My only big issue with Green is that she sometimes makes her characters too self-aware, making speeches that seem unrealistically honest. For example, after Ethan finds out that Emily wants to keep the baby, he says to Andi: 

"It's not you," he says sadly, swallowing the lump that has risen in his throat. "It's her. I never wanted to believe it. I never wanted to think of my daughter as... I don't know... broken somehow, or in need of fixing. I know that her behavior stems from insecurity, from her wanting to be loved, but I also know it's about her, and nothing to do with you, and I know it's not acceptable. Not anymore."

I don't know too many men who speak that candidly in one long sentence, do you? I completely believe that Ethan feels those things, but I'm not sure if I believe him saying them so precisely. This happens in Green's writing, not over-frequently, but sometimes. I guess there's a need to suspend belief a little to get every character's emotions across, but it does take me out of the story somewhat.

The other thing that takes me out of the story, and it's a small thing, but sometimes Green uses British sayings that don't make sense coming out of an American's mouth or mind. For example, during a chapter that Emily narrates, she thinks, "That bit totally freaks me out... That bit is just beyond gross." An American teen would say "That part" or "That stuff/ crap/ shit," not "That bit." Overall, Green is pretty good at Americanizing, but every once in awhile, I find one of these. She is, after all, British herself, and all of her early novels are set in or around London. I'm not sure why she made the switch- maybe she moved here?- but several books ago she wrote a story that was set between England and New England, and all her novels after that were based solely in the U.S. 

Try some Green, if you're a woman, or a particularly sensitive man, who loves good literature. 

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