Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Underside of Joy: a book review

Sometimes a book hooks me on the setting. Sometimes I find a novel pulling me in with great characters or an amazing plot. The Underside of Joy by Sere Prince Halverson had it all -- a descriptively wrought setting that had the scent of redwoods and damp moss in the air, characters I wanted as my neighbors and a storyline I could discuss for days.

Years ago, I was part of a funny little Bible study at my church. We were all moms with young children and we met weekly. We were a fun mix of people, I think, well-educated but few of us had really read the Bible before on a regular basis.  We were all pretty much never afraid to say what we really thought even if it was irreverent and possibly sacrilegious. We seemed to have several discussion themes we came back to frequently, one being that there's no quick fix for anything, another that we as parents have a tendency to super-size things, and finally that joy was something different from happiness. Possibly that last theme was one of my favorites and derived directly from my go-to Carl Jung observation that there is no coming to consciousness without pain.

And there you have The Underside of Joy. Ella Beene is happily married to a wonderful man with two adorable children from a previous marriage living in an impossibly sweet town in Northern California. They seem to live a charmed and messy life full of nature hikes, great sex and organic food. In her happiness, Ella lives totally in the moment blissfully blind to anything that threatens the contentment of the life she has built with her husband and step-children -- did I mention that they are adorable. All of that changes in an instant and Ella is forced to look at the reality of her life, her family and what love really means.

One of my favorite parts of The Underside of Joy is the kind way that the author treats all of the characters. While told from Like real life, sometimes there isn't a bad guy. And as much as we sometimes want and need to blame someone else, that's not the way of responsibility or the way of love. 

I think I finished reading The Underside of Joy a wiser and more hopeful person than I started it.  And yes, I know it's fiction but a story doesn't have to be true to tell Truths.  Quite possibly, The Underside of Joy will be one of my favorite books I read this year.  And, don't be fooled by the girlie flower on the cover.  I handed the book to Marc when I finished it at the lakehouse.  He read it in less than 24 hours, handed it back to me and said, "I hope the next BlogHer Book Club book you get to read is as good as this one."

Just so you know, while I was compensated for this review for BlogHer, the opinions expressed here are always and entirely my own...


mere said...

I'm going to recommend this for my next book club read. Thanks for the review.

Gwen Williamson Mathews said...

I think it's a really good choice. My old book club would have loved it and it has some great food descriptions. Forgot to mention that.

isabug said...

Oh yea... I wanted to go to Life's a Picnic and get some food!


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