Monday, June 20, 2011

Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister

I liked the premise of this novel: six grown women with different problems are forced to do something difficult or scary. I liked that the six women were so different and faced such disparate life challenges yet they came together at first to hold twins and then to support one of their members in her fight with breast cancer. While I found the story engaging and intriguing, the narrative style left me feeling detached from the characters. Each "chapter" is devoted to one of the women.

The novel starts with a Prologue which focuses on Kate, a cancer survivor who finds it strange to be alone with her body. Kate's views on cancer, life and risk were overwhelmingly realistic and deeply intriguing. While reading her story I felt incredibly connected to the emotional tenor of the story. In this Prologue, the six women gather together to celebrate Kate's recovery from Cancer. One of the women notices a brochure for a White Water Rafting trip down the Grand Canyon on Kate's bulletin board. It is Kate's daughter's idea and Kate is terrified. Upon the urging of her friends, she decides to do it, as long as her friends each take a risk too - a risk she chooses.

Each chapter narrates the risk each of the other women takes. Some of these "risks" would seem simple if I listed them here. But each is deeply symbolic of the stage in life the unique woman is trapped in. I liked some of the women and their chapters more than others. The love story between Daria and Henry is very captivating (and I wanted it to play out over even more pages). I also was particularly taken in by Hadley's story. The story eventually comes full circle and brings us back to Kate and her own risk and her physical embrace of life and its challenges. While I enjoyed the story I felt the individual chapters could have meshed better if told in a different way. I also wanted more in the end. I wanted to feel even more connected to the journey of these six interesting women, but the structure and writing left me at arm's distance. I would love to hear what other's thought of this novel and it's narrative structure.

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