“Under the influence” by Joyce Maynard

under the influence

This is a contemporary women’s novel that manages to have all the drama expected in this genre, but the author manages to keep the novel from reading like a soap opera.  The protagonist is a young woman whose mother never wanted her, and whose father she never met.  Early on she is familiar to the hard knock in life.  She is the girl in high school who nobody notices until she meets her future husband.  The reader gets the feeling that she marries him to become part of his big, tightly knit family.  When her mother-in-law enters her name into the family tree, she thinks she finally belongs somewhere, with a family that wants her.  It doesn’t take her long to realize that her husband is a cad.  She can put up with him because they have a little boy who is her main reason for living.  Still, after her husband asks for a divorce, she is devastated that his family disowns her.

She makes a nice life for herself and her little boy.  Still, the loneliness and responsibilities of being a single mom are trying.   She self-medicates with alcohol, though only after her son has been put to bed.  She finds herself in trouble when her son is sick in the middle of the night, and she races to get him to the hospital.   She is pulled over and is given a DUI.   When her now remarried ex-husband learns of this he demands full custody.  Her lawyer assures her that her ex-husband doesn’t stand a chance, because other than her recent DUI she has a spotless record.  Unfortunately, the judge in the case has a personal vendetta against drunk driving.  He informs all those in the courtroom that “Four years ago my wife of thirty-four years was killed by a drunk driver.”  She unjustly loses custody.

The story is told in the first person narrated by the heroine.  The writing feels very personal, as if it is a confession.  Even after three years of sobriety, she can only see her son for a few hours every two weeks.  She is at the mercy of her ex-husband and his moods.  This mom reads like the mother of the year (with probably one too many pages showing her complete attentiveness to being a good mother.)   The unfairness of the situation will make you cringe.  During a catering waitress job for a charity event, she meets a very wealthy, older, charismatic, and unusual couple.  The wife, who is in a wheelchair, takes a shine to this bright young woman and invites her to visit their home.  The older woman seems to take the younger woman under her their wing.  Soon our young mom is over their glamorous, art-filled home almost every day.  She feels as if they have adopted her.  Before you know it she is working for them on a philanthropic project regarding rescue dogs, which is the wife’s passion.  Her world, when not on a visitation day, revolves around them.  She is thrilled to be socializing with “the rich and famous.”  She meets the couple when she is in a very vulnerable state.   It is easy to understand how she misses that she is being used by them, sometimes as a servant.  However, the couple is so beguiling she looks the other way.  The husband is a larger than life character.  He is crude (continually talking about their amazing sex life), yet still very likable, and appears to be loyal to his blue-collar friends from his youth.  The reader can see him more clearly than the heroine as a vulgar narcissist.  Think of a male version of the legendary actress Joan Crawford in her daughter’s autobiography, “Mommy Dearest.”

The protagonist uses her friends/employers too.  Her son has been angry with her since she lost custody.  On a visitation day, she brings him to her employers’ over-the-top house, with all kinds of luxuries that a child would love, such as swimming pools and boats.  Additionally, her son adores the macho husband.  He asks “Is that guy a superhero or something?” and begins asking his father if he can spend more time with his mom.  The couple’s true nature comes out when her son witnesses an accident on the husband’s racing boat, which is the fault of his adult son.  This accident has serious consequences for a young woman.  At the hospital, where they are taken by the police, she notices that when her wealthy friends leave, they do so without saying one word to her, or her traumatized son, nor will they ever again.  They drop her, and her son, like a hot potato.  Once again, she loses another would-be family.  Soon she learns that the super rich are different.  Unlike her, they can afford the best lawyers, and buy their way out of anything.  Now she needs to make a moral choice.  She “must choose between the truth and the friends who have given her everything.”  The story ends years later when the now older mom realizes that she never needed them.  She has a family, a family of two, consisting of her and her son.

In between all of this, there is a boyfriend who offers true loyalty.  But her new friends think he is boring, for them a sin worse than a mortal sin, and she dumps him.  Personally, I feel that the boyfriend, though important to the plot’s ending (I cannot share why for it would be a spoiler) made the story read more as chick-lit.  There is another minor character that I feel did enhance the plot, who is the couple’s longtime female servant.  They betray this woman in the most brutal of ways (again, if I share it would be a spoiler.)  At the close of this story, the long time servant quietly explains to our heroine how an unthinkable immoral act can happen with the simple statement of “people tell lies.”   The book’s writing isn’t very deep but still, I enjoyed the novel.  It is a good beach read that can be thought provoking.  Would you inform on a friend who you consider to be your fairy godmother?

Find all my reviews at https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4793025-martie-nees-record?shelf=read




“Claiming Noah” by Amanda Ortlepp

Publication Date:  July 5, 2016

Publisher:  FaithWords

A couple begins an In Vitro Fertilization (IVF ) program.  After three miscarriages the wife has a successful pregnancy and gives birth to a beautiful baby boy.  The parents are ecstatic.   They decide to donate their last unused embryo.   Another couple is on a waiting list to receive an embryo.  They are overjoyed when they receive the first couple’s donation and are able to adopt the embryo.  This mother also gives birth to a beautiful baby boy.

Now what can go wrong with this scenario?  The book touches on so many themes that it hurts the story, which is supposed to be about a court custody case questioning who the real parents are, the biological or the legal ones?  We read about; religious restrictions, class differences, unhappy marriages, new romances, a child kidnapping as well as a fascinating and extremely disturbing postpartum mood disorder that can turn into a psychosis. (I do not suggest reading this book if you are expecting but if you must the author makes it clear that this is not the usual “baby blues” that most new moms can experience.)

I felt the book would have read better if it focused solely on the controversial child custody battle about the two biological brothers.  In that matter this tale isn’t all that different from the book “Losing Isaiah” by Seth Margolis, in other words, a real tear jerker.  Your heart will break for both mothers as they both feel in their hearts’ that they are the “real” mom.