Top critical review
Like choosing between a new Ferrari and a beat-up VW Beetle
on 30 June 2014
I rushed to buy the electronic version of this book because I became a big fan of Helen Warner (HW) after reading her other novel, RSVP. Also, after reading another book that annoyed me because a cheating husband "got away easily" (Jennifer Smith's The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight), I was interested to see how HW will handle the character of a cheating husband.
Like in RSVP, HW's strength is how she writes her characters - she doesn't make them one-dimensional but instead humanizes them by showing both their good and bad sides. I was pleasantly surprised as to how, in the beginning, I was ready to hate Jamie, the cheating husband. However, as the novel unfolds, I found myself sympathising with him and agreeing with the assessment of one of the other characters : he was just a "good guy" who made a terrible mistake, was truly sorry for it and was trying hard to make amends for it.
Martha, the wronged wife, began as someone I could totally sympathise with, but as the story progressed, I started becoming annoyed by her "I'm-the-martyr" attitude. The speed she becomes instantly attracted to and become emotionally dependent with the actor, Charlie, seemed a bit fast. While Jamie was trying to redeem himself, she spent most of the book whining and yearning for Charlie, but showing off that she was such a good wife/mother for sticking with Jamie for the sake of the children and not sleeping with Charlie (at least in the beginning). This pissed me off. Granted she was justified to be really angry with Jamie, the fact remains that she herself was having an emotional affair with Charlie. For someone angry for the betrayal and dishonesty of her husband, she herself was being dishonest by staying with her husband when she would rather be with someone else. My point is, why then didn't she just make a clean break when it seemed unlikely she would ever get over Jamie's betrayal? (I mean it showed, despite Jamie's efforts, she didn't seem to respond to them at all, and truly make the effort to reconcile.) Why use the children as an excuse and prolong the inevitable?
Apologies for the SPOILER, but I have to say it to express my review honestly...
I suppose in the end, this is why I didn't like the book so much. To me, I didn't feel that Martha really had an "agonizing" decision to whom she would end up being with. Martha choosing between Charlie and Jamie was like trying to pick the winner in a race between a well maintained Ferrari versus a beat-up VW Beetle. Charlie was just too perfect - successful handsome actor who was supposedly always faithful to his spouse who dumped him for another actor and who remained friendly to his ex-wife despite what she did and was also a great Dad. Wow! On the other end is Jamie who is a Mr. Mom, a great Dad but has no career, completely dependent on his wife financially and had an affair with a tramp. Seriously, the contrast between these two men was so staggering that it made me wonder - what if Jamie didn't have an affair? Isn't it highly probable (given how quickly she became attracted to Charlie) that it could have been her who could have been unfaithful to Jamie and would have dumped Jamie for Charlie? On the other hand, it also made me wonder, what if Charlie wasn't so perfect? What if he wasn't a successful actor? What if he was just an "average Joe"? What if he was also like a Jamie who made a similar mistake? Who would Martha choose or would she actually choose someone?
I suppose what I'm getting at is that for a book advertised as a woman trying to make a decision between two men, I would have preferred a "fairer race", not where the other guy seemed to have ALL the "goods".
The big twist in the end - I know a lot of readers thought the ending of the book was great because of the great big sacrifice Jamie did. In fairness, I did like it in the sense that it drove home the point that overall, Jamie is a really nice guy who just made a terrible mistake. On the other hand, I disliked it more because it was again another dishonest act. I just didn't see the point of him doing it, because the only thing it did was to make himself look worse in front of his wife and daughter and verify their fears that he would just cheat again (even though he didn't). Wouldn't a heartfelt conversation/clean break-up with his wife suffice? Seriously, if I was the daughter and I learned what he did, I would have been more pissed. I would have appreciated more the truth that my parents broke up because my Dad really did something stupid and despite his efforts of trying to make up for it, my Mom couldn't forgive him for it and found love with someone else.
Will I recommend this book? Honestly, I would rather point readers to HW's other books, RSVP and IOU. As a married mother of two young children, I am getting fed up reading one chick-lit (or even young adult) book after another that always seem to have characters with cheating spouses and marriages breaking down because of them. Seriously, after reading a lot of these books, I'm beginning to wonder why bother getting married at all?!