Monday, December 19, 2016

Games of Make-Believe, by Julie Ann Wambach

Brookside Press, ISBN 9780981481814, November 2016

Susan, her twin sister Millie, and their triplet brothers, are treated as drudges by their stepmother Hannah whenever their father is away on business, which is most of the time. It's not clear what he does for a living, but given we seem to be talking about the late forties or early fifties--certainly not later--traveling salesman is a likely possibility.

When he dies, things get even rougher for the kids, and the contrast with how their two half-sisters are treated grows even greater. It's not long before, one by one, the kids start taking off to live their own lives. Susan is the last to leave, marrying a high school classmate who helped her stay in touch with Millie by agreeing to be the address Millie could send the letters to.

But he's no prince, either. He drinks, he goes off on binges, as first one and then the second daughter are born, he is no help at all.

We follow Susan, who  eventually starts going by Bella, through her friendship with her mother-in-law Doris, her move from Utah to Arizona, trying to find her way in a church community, supporting and loving her daughters.

And it's all very, very banal. This isn't a failure of the writing; it's the point. Susan/Bella is a loving mother and a good-enough person, but her flaws are on display in a way that makes her not so much more convincing as a rebuke to anyone who thinks they're aiming to be any better than that. She "wins tickets" to gala charity fundraising ball, and it turns out she's been set up, because of her looks, to be the "dance for donations" woman this year.

And she meets, her last dance of the evening, a man named Hal Prince. The strap on one of her high heeled shoes breaks, and Hal helps her make an escape via, not a pumpkin coach, but the "drunk taxi."

Of course that's not the last she sees of Hal Prince. And he's a very good guy,could be even better than he is, but he's a good guy. And yet very mundane.

If there's a point here other than the mundanity of life, and undermining the Cinderella story, not in a way that's liberating, and not in a way that makes it evil, but simply in a way that says dreams are for fools and life is banal. There's one strand of the story that might be read as undermining that, but it's a minor strand, not the main story.

At no point was I tempted to throw this book against the wall (just as well, because I got an electronic galley), but neither do I anticipate rereading it, or looking for more by this author. Lovers of pure literary fiction may feel differently. It's well-written; I just don't care for the story, or care as much about  these characters as I'd like to.

I can't recommend it, but I can't say it's particularly bad, either.

I received a free electronic galley from the publisher.