Monday, August 5, 2019

Life and Other Inconveniences, by Kristan Higgins

Berkley Publishing Group, ISBN 9780451489425, August 2019

When she was eight years old, Emma London's mother committed suicide. With her mother dead, her father "unable to cope," and her maternal grandparents unable to take on a child because her grandmother, Joan, was beginning to suffer the symptoms of ALS, Emma was sent to live with her other grandmother, Genevieve London.

Genevieve had suffered her own losses, the disappearance of her other son, Sheppard, two years older than Emma's father, Clark, when Sheppard was seven, and the death of her own husband, Emma's other grandfather, Garrison, a few years later. One might think this common experience of loss would help the two bond, but Genevieve had responded to her losses by becoming very closed off and self-protective. She thought her duty to Emma was teaching her to be strong, pragmatic, and focused on success. When at 18, just about to go off to Smith College in the fall, Emma gets pregnant, Genevieve is disgusted, and kicks her out when she refuses to either have an abortion, or give the baby up for adoption.

Emma goes to Chicago, to stay with her other grandparents. Far more able to help a pregnant near-adult now than a grieving child when they were grieving too, and just learning to cope with Joan's illness, they welcome her.

Seventeen years later, Emma is a Ph.D. in psychology, working as a therapist, and her daughter, Riley is sixteen, beautiful, doing well in school, and pretty well adjusted. Emma's grandmother, Joan, has died, but her grandfather, Paul, is alive, active, and devoted to his little family. They live together in the house Paul and Joan bought many years ago.

When Genevieve calls, saying that she's dying, and asking Emma to come home to Connecticut, dangling the possibility of making Riley rather than Emma's father, Clark, her heir, Emma, despite some qualms over the prospect of Riley not having to worry about tuition and other schooling costs, says no. They're doing fine. Emma doesn't need to sell her self-respect for money. And she doesn't want Riley through the same pain she did, of trying to win Genevieve's love and never quite succeeding.

Then Riley's closest friends at school metamorphose into Mean Girls, with Riley as their new principal target. We eventually learn that Riley had seen some of this behavior before, but she never thought they were this bad, or that they'd turn on her.

Getting Riley out of Chicago and to Genevieve's house in Connecticut suddenly seems like an excellent idea.

What follows is a summer of self-discovery and mutual discovery for Emma, Riley, Genevieve--and people they know, or come to know.

Genevieve is hard to like, and not all her decisions have been good, for her or her family, but she has tried hard to do her duty, and to do her best for them. The Emma we meet early on has a lack of real confidence, but we come to see she's been a good mother and is also a very good therapist. We meet Riley's father, Jason, and his wife, Jamilah, and their sons. We learn something about why, maybe, Clark grew up to be such a weak character and a crappy father. We see them all growing, or not, confronting their weaknesses and mistakes, or not. It's an absorbing, and satisfying, fammily story.

I'm going to talk for a moment about Genevieve's dogs. She has five, much to Emma's surprise, and they're all apparently a result of her having been lured into what was originally a duty involvement with a local shelter. They are each, in their way, sweet dogs. But one of them is a pug, called Allegra.

Allegra, like many pugs, due to the horribly squished face, which many people, unaware of the effects on the dog, mistakenly think is "cute." It isn't. It's heartbreaking. That snorting and snuffling and snoring is a result of these almost uniformly sweet-tempered, loving dogs not being able to breathe properly. As an asthmatic, I can tell you with absolute certainty that your snorting, snuffling, snoring little pug is suffering, and also sleep-deprived.

Here's the kicker. There's a surgery, involving soft palette resection and some other things, that can enable your suffering pug to breathe comfortably, and sleep properly. It's not cheap. But this is a woman with great resources, and whom we know from the text of the book is aware her pug is suffering due to this. Allegra should have been given that surgery, but there's no indication that Genevieve is aware of it. Perhaps the author is unaware of it--but since she clearly knows pugs suffer with their breathing problems, that's just inexcusably lazy, at best.

So, it's a good book, and enjoyable. But if you love dogs, especially if you love pugs, be aware. If you have pugs, be aware.

And yes, when I post this review on sites that have star ratings, this is costing the book a star.

I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

No comments:

Post a Comment