Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Just Like Chalky Valentine Candy

Well, isn't that just a ringing endorsement? While the candy sweethearts might be a little icky, today's book is not.  My Husband's Sweethearts by Bridget Asher first drew me in with it's unique title and premise.  Despite the shoes on the cover, this book is far and away from the fluffy chick lit genre (the girly, Sex and the City genre of the literary world).  Instead the book is a psychologically complex novel that dives into the emotional turmoil of its characters.  It is a book for and about women, but fluffy it is not. The book was not quite what I expected, which made for both a slightly disappointing and ultimately rewarding reading experience.

The Basics
Asher, Bridget. My Husband's Sweethearts. New York: Delacorte P., 2008. Print.

Bridget Asher is one of two pseudonyms employed by the author Julianna Baggott.  Baggott holds an M.F.A. in creative writing and teaches at Florida State University.  She's a fairly prolific author with seventeen novels under her belt. (That's not quite Danielle-Steel-level prolific, but it still sounds impressive to me). Oh, and she writes essay and poems, too; you know, for kicks.

My Husband's Sweethearts tells the story of Lucy, an auditor who has been separated from her husband for the last six months after discovering that he had been cheating on her with two "left over" girlfriends and one new one.  She returns home after she learns that Artie, the cheat, is dying a slow death from congestive heart failure.  The story really gets going once she drunkenly calls up some of the numbers in his little black book and invites them to take a turn at his death bed (ah, drunk dialing, your so Klassy).  The novel follows Lucy's journey toward coming to terms with her own emotions, her husband's infidelity and looming death, and the makeshift family she forms along the way.

The Book
When I first opened this book, I was expecting a novel in which plot was the most important feature. Instead, I wound up with a book about character where plot is only present to keep things moving.  At first, I had a difficult time getting into the novel; it had a bit of a slow start.  Looking back, I realize this had a lot to do with Lucy.  At the opening of the book, she's a little distant and we're in this prelude stage of the book before things really get going and we can see the characters interact.  But, by chapter two I'm hooked when we get a glimpse of Lucy's personality beyond the cheated upon spouse. As she boards the plane, she encounters her disgustingly cheery seat-mate, who is too oblivious to stand and let Lucy slip to her seat.  Lucy handles this by sliding in butt-to-face in a delightful moment of passive aggression.  Lucy is interesting to follow (thank goodness, since she's the main character), and the more I read the more I grew interested in her funny, sarcastic commentary and her emotional ups and downs as she learns to cope with Artie's actions and his death.

I also enjoyed the little family that is formed around Lucy.  Her own mother is a hoot with her velour track suits and her jock strap toting dachshund (just think about why that's necessary).  Eleanor, one of Artie's many wronged lovers, whose precise organization skills coordinate the parade of ex-lovers visiting Artie's deathbed is entertaining. John, Artie's faux son, helps Lucy's coping process by accompanying her on the "Tour d'Artie" that takes them through various stages of Artie's life.  And Elspa, my personal favorite, has the most compelling side-story as the others help her get her child back and become a mother in fact.

I do have a few bones to pick with the novel, however.  For one, I didn't care for the running theme of all men as dogs/ liars/ weak.  While the women of this book have been wronged, they have been wronged by only one man that we see.  Lucy's mother does come from an earlier generation that (according to the book) expected men to be weak willed and unfaithful. But the younger women's protests against the idea and demands that men be held accountable rather than excused as weak alos imply that men are naturally flawed.  The author does not seem to agree with this assessment, given her "about the author" that makes it clear her own husband has never given her reason to doubt him.  So, why not give us another option besides Elspa's mostly silent belief in the good in people? My more minor complaint centers on the little twist about John's origins, which seems like a cheap way out of the squickiness of he and Lucy potentially being in love.

But overall, Asher pulls a wealth of emotions from her readers during the course of the book.  We often encounter hilarious moments, such as Bogie the dachshund making advances at one of the sweetheart's cylindrical dachshund-esque handbags or the granny-like sweetheart who turns out to be Artie's highschool math teacher.  We have moments of intense hope when Lucy goes to convince John to visit his father's deathbed or Elspa finally confronts her parents and takes on the responsibility of mothering Rose. And, we have moments of heart wrenching sadness when Lucy finds herself initially torn between love and hate for Artie, unable to settle on one when he's so close to being gone forever. Poof!  To love someone as much as Lucy does him but be so angry with him when he's dying must be terrible.

Despite my small qualms, I found My Husband's Sweethearts to be a really interesting and enjoyable read.  I liked that it was unpredictable and able to surprise me rather than following a formula. By the end of the novel, I felt like everything had come to a suitable resolution and I was satisfied.



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