I guess I had been imagining it for a long time. After almost four years, I felt like I was a part of their family. I wished I was. And really, who could blame me?
Jenna likes to tell stories, in fact she’s incredibly talented when it comes to fiction. Her skill is a gift that opens doors for her when she writes a story, The Adventures of Peanut Girl, for the little girl (Chloe) she babysits, one that happens to be the daughter of her pretend married boyfriend, John. She has problems within her own family when her parent’s split apart, enter Deirdre (or as her mother likes to call her, Jenna’s father’s ‘midlife crisis’). Life is complicated when lives running parallel begin to intersect. Deirdre is meant to remain simply the harlot, the evil other woman, but Deirdre in reality is more than just Andrew’s kept woman. She is a hardworking doctor, a sister to an exciting but exhausting twin brother (he also has a heavy story). She is also the catalyst for the hatred growing inside Joanne, one that damages the relationship between Jenna and her mother. She may be with Andrew, but ‘for Jenna’s sake’ he better keep that part of his life seperate if he wants to remain in his daughter’s life.
Jenna’s loyalty is constantly under scrutiny from her heartbroken mother, distraught by her husband’s betrayal. Maybe in a healthy world we all should try to bridge the poisonous distance rejection and cheating creates, and it’s easy with clear heads watching from the outside to see how anger takes its toll on the child, stuck in the middle, loving both parents, hunkering for stability. Unless it’s you harboring the wounded animal heart, dealing with the turbulence of your emotions that make you selfish and bitter, it’s easy to believe in embracing change, rising above the torment of your pain for the sake of your child. Women and men do it all the time, swallow their pride, attempt the grin and bear it approach and remain civil for the sake of the children’s emotional well-being. Then there is the other side, those who are stuck in fury and use the child as a pawn, whether intentionally or not. Jenna is caught up in the maelstrom of her mother’s wounded pride. The other woman is enough to make her spit nails, but what happens when Jenna begins to like Deirdre? How sick is it to pretend she doesn’t exist, that her father is meant to compartmentalize his love life from his family life? Is she meant to remain a phantom presence for all eternity just to spare her mother’s feelings, while Jenna is used as the reason? It isn’t long before Jenna herself mirrors Deirdre and her father’s relationship. She will understand all too well the obstacles and difficulties Deirdre dealt with in coming between a family.
Chloe’s mother has always shadowed her and to her father John’s mind, is a big reason he decides to remain married to Mara. Mara doesn’t have the sort of skin required for moving on, for abrupt changes, for divorce. John had been down that road before with his first wife Vivian and their boys. But there is something different, some hole inside of Mara that refuses to let go. The reader catches of glimpse of the cold, overbearing Mara as Jenna ‘pokes around’ their home, as she becomes intimately close with the family, even vacationing with them, mentored in a sense by John. But the story isn’t really about the men, who they love or don’t love, nor who remains the wife and who is the invisible lover. The women have pasts that color all of their relationships. Mara is coming undone, but Chloe is drifting further away, no longer feeling that mother/daughter bond.
Jenna thought her time waiting for love would be rewarded, and never imagined the ending fate created for her love story. When she begins to move on, her mother is always the one obstacle that cannot detach from the pain of the past, preventing even the simplest joys with her stubborn refusal to let go of her resentments. No one can imagine that her pain was set during her own childhood that began with the death of her own mother. Jenna keeps her secrets close too, messing up her new love with omissions, so as not to face the past she is trying to forget. Both are more similar than they know, trying to ignore painful points in their lives, yet unaware how much it affects the present.
Chloe (the peanut girl) comes of age and finds herself on the outside too, a ‘invisible woman’ but for a different reason than an affair. She is forbidden, an unaccepted shame to her lover’s family. Every relationship in this novel is complicated. Mara is deeply troubled, numb and disconnected in some ways and overly involved in others. Jenna is the main character who starts as a fanciful romantic teenager likely stunted by her own mother’s reaction to the break in her marriage, maybe John is a way of rebelling or maybe love is genuine, maybe she conjured a love story into being? But her little game with her friends sets the pace for her entire adulthood where men are concerned.
People are messy, love can build and destroy and it really never will be “just the two of us”. Everyone is affected by a love story, more often than not as obstacles because love never really runs smoothly. The women are more alike than they are different, each with unhealthy sides as much as strong ones. Some drag their pain like a dead horse behind them. Most secrets aren’t as hidden as they think. Some use secrets to keep people out, like Chloe with her demanding needy mother and others to shield others from pain but regardless of their reasons, it always hurts someone, mostly themselves. Each woman in this novel is as important as the other, be they the wife, daughter, lover, or enemy. Perfect for a book club and I know women, regardless of their ages, will not relate to the same characters, will champion one and damn the other. I don’t want to ruin the secrets. Provocative.
publication Date: June 4, 2018
Montague Street Press