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Friday, September 22, 2006

 

Tumbling heart over head: A Review of We Are All Fine Here by Mary Guterson

We Are All Fine Here
By Mary Guterson
(Berkeley Trade, 2006; $13.00)

There are some books you read because the characters--usually the heroine or hero--are likeable. And there are other books you read because the heroine is unlikeable and you can't help but want more and more of her; you finish the book in record time because you literally hated every minute of reading about this person, this horrible creature who entered your own world through the pages of the novel and infused it with negative energy.

Reading Mary Guterson's book We Are All Fine Here was like that for me. The heroine, Julia, bothered me from the minute I was introduced to her. Here was a woman with a husband and a teenage son (Both of whom needed more of her attention and love, if you ask me. Harumph.) But instead of enjoying her life and attempting to find joy in her relationships, she is living in a mind warp in which she still pines for her bad boy boyfriend from college, Ray.

Ray! If you've ever loved a man who was horribly wrong from you but whose very wrongness seemed to make him the sexiest man you've ever had the pleasure of fucking, raise your hand.

I thought so.

I am a suburban housewife. And like many suburban housewives, I have a past that--if not for this blog--would rarely see the light of day in my current, rose-colored world. Now I've got the husband, the two kids, the 2,500 square feet of pristine lawn.

The thing is, I've had all of that before. Okay, In my past I was an urban wife who had a career and lived in a rented flat, and it was a garden instead of a lawn and we had no children, but my point is that I had a life with another person that could have been forever (isn't that what the commitment of marriage is all about?) but I threw all of that away for the smell and taste of danger.

My own honest side tells me that what I dislike about Julia isn't the decisions she makes, but it's the decisions I have made. When she's screwing her ex-boyfriend in the bathroom during an old friend's wedding, I cringed for her and also for me. One thing about Julia that does rub off on the reader is her utmost honesty. She knows what's right and she knows what's wrong, but that doesn't stop her from choosing wrong over right. I've been there; haven't we all?

We Are All Fine Here is not a difficult read. The sentences contain the requisite parts of speech; the action supports a story; the story is presented in a plausible manner. We read about a married woman whose husband has the hots for a woman in his office. Meanwhile, her teenage son is good at ignoring her and smokes pot in his bedroom. To amuse herself, she has a mild crush on a man she works with and fantasizes about the guy she loved in college.

But when she hoists herself up on that bathroom counter and gives in to temptation, when she allows fantasy to become reality, is when the story becomes less simple, more real, and for me, harder to digest. Wake up, Julia! He doesn't love you! is what I wanted to shout at her. Because that's what I shouted to myself on, oh, probably one million separate occassions when I knew that letting my heart lead over my head was not what I should be doing.

Julia's process of self discovery might conflict with what society pushes on us as the appropriate way for a mother and wife to think. But not all decisions we make are easy and not all outcomes are the ones we desire initially. By the end of this novel, I realized that it wasn't Julia whom I disliked. It was the part of me that is like Julia.

By removing embellishments that would only serve to give us a more distinguished and likeable Julia, Guterson's liberal application of straightforward, dry wit gives us a true heroine of our times. Julia is you and she is me. We all have decisions to make. Will we make the same ones she makes or will we choose a different path through motherhood and, ultimately, through life? For me, all stories I read become personal; Julia's story is no exception. It wasn't until I had time to digest this book that I realized I had projected my own ideas of what is right and what is wrong onto Guterson's heroine.

In order to enjoy this book, I had to remind myself that every woman in this world, whether it's me, you, or Julia, has to make her own mistakes. And she also had to decide if her decision is a mistake or if it's fate intervening in an otherwise boring existence. That's what I learned from this book. My past is my own; her past is her own; what's important for all of us is that we know when the present also contains our future.

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