Thursday, August 18, 2011

She Makes It Look Easy by Marybeth Whalen — 336 pgs

She Makes It Look Easy: A NovelWhen Ariel and her family move into a new neighborhood across town, she’s hopeful that great friendships, new opportunities and a new life are just around the corner, but life with three boys and a husband who’s constantly traveling has her more than frazzled. That’s why she’s so excited to be welcomed into the neighborhood and taken under the wing of the community’s most “together” woman, Justine. Justine is not only a great mom and wife but she’s super organized and creative, the woman that all the other women strive to be. Ariel finds Justine’s tutelage to be just what she needs, and she begins to relish her new life and Justine’s place in it. But something is niggling at Ariel, for Justine isn’t always as open and friendly as she could be, and although she’s chosen Ariel to be her protégée, it seems there’s an underlying struggle for the women to really bridge the distance between them and become the close friends that Ariel wishes them to be. It turns out that Justine has a secret she’s trying to keep from Ariel and the other neighbors, and this secret is destined to change the lives of all those around her. But Justine won’t heed any warnings and determinedly rushes towards a fate that will shock everyone and destroy several lives. Will Ariel stay quiet and protect Justine and their faltering friendship, or will she have to do a very difficult thing and expose the woman who she so desires to emulate, a woman who makes it look so easy?

Last year at SIBA, when I had the awesome opportunity to meet Marybeth Whalen, one of the things we discussed was the book she was currently working on called She Makes It Look Easy. When I heard the premise and how the book came to be, I was really excited and added it to my mental list of books to watch for in the new year. Well, okay, that’s not exactly true. This book was THE book that I was most excited to read in the coming year, and luckily for me, it was just as page-turning as I had hoped it would be. In its intricate plot and realistic female protagonists, this is a book that bent my mind around the delicate issues of female friendships and the secrets we keep hidden from those who we love, even when they destroy us.

Ariel is a woman like many others. Her life is one big to-do list that keeps stretching further and further into infinity. She’s stressed in her attempts to raise three young boys and in her marriage with a husband who’s mildly reproving that she can’t get it all together. She’s a lot like me and, I’m sure, a lot like many women out there today. Ariel is waiting for the day things become manageable, but it doesn’t seem like that day will ever come. Enter Justine, the queen of the neighborhood. Justine is poised, elegant, and has every aspect of her life under control. She teaches a class on organization at the church, where women all over the neighborhood come to stare and admire. She irons her shorts. Need I say more? When Justine picks Ariel as her new project, Ariel is flattered and overcome with thoughts that she may have just found her new best friend. But Ariel has put Justine on a pedestal and doesn’t see the real Justine behind the facade. In her struggles to conform to Justine’s ideals, Ariel is unsure of herself and has some issues with her self-esteem. She feels grateful, but also somehow oddly detached from Justine. This is a situation that bothers her greatly, because wasn’t her friendship with Justine supposed to be fulfilling and edifying?

Justine, on the other hand, is a woman who looks out for number one and only number one. Her friendship with Ariel is much like some of the other friendships she’s had in the neighborhood, some of which have ended very badly. She has delusions of a greater life just waiting for her somewhere else, and her relationship with her husband is a nadir of hurt feelings and rejection. She has a definite feeling of superiority that she hides with a big smile and a patina of false concern for others. Justine is a walking contradiction. She cares what others think of her and her life, but underneath it all, she couldn’t care less if she hurts an innocent person who gets caught up in her quest for fulfillment. She was scary at times and could be overwhelmingly cold and calculating. But under it all, I think Justine was confused and had really bought into the idea that she was the center of everything. She believed in her grandeur and believed that her desires were more important than others and their feelings. It was hard not to feel sorry for her because her life was a big masquerade that she constantly fooled herself into believing was all about her.

When Justine decides to take matters into her own hands, Ariel discovers the real reason Justine has been grooming her, and it breaks her heart. Where Whalen excels is in the tense and realistic push/pull between these two very different women. There is hurt and confusion on one side, balanced with manipulation and secrecy on the other. Whalen gets the complex chemistry of female relationships just right in this very tightly paced book. Themes of rejection and of subsuming oneself for another are just the beginning of the story in this complex and portentous relationship between Justine and Ariel. And though misinterpretation and misunderstandings abound, I could really feel the struggle in Ariel’s heart for a woman whom she so admired and wanted to love. I could also feel the disillusionment and hopelessness that Justine was going through, and the combination of these two very different protagonists living within each other’s worlds was accompanied by my breathless anticipation for how things would turn out for both of them. It was a complex balance of longed-for intimacy and shifted expectations, and turning the last page, I discovered that, like real life, these situations can be messy and at times painful.

I was totally enthralled with this book and had no trouble shirking other obligations so I could spend more time with it. The emotional complexity and the perfectly imagined friendship between the two women was something that I quite literally couldn’t put down. Justine’s decision to take her life into another direction, despite all warnings and the fact that she destroyed the lives of others, was also something I read with more than a little schadenfreude, and with the talent of Whalen’s plotting and character creation, I was even able to sympathize with her at times. This was a great book that I hope gets lots of attention because it tells a story that’s not only believable, but intense. A great read and highly recommended!


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

18 comments:

Amy said...

Glad to hear you enjoyed it so much zibilee! It's great when books live up to our best expectations and hopes!

Also, I will hopefully see you at SIBA this year :D :D :D

Aths said...

I haven't heard of this one, but the premise is so exciting that I have to read it! Thanks for spotlighting this one, it's on my radar and I hope to check it out!

Kathy said...

thanks for a great review. I am adding this to my TBR.

Jenny said...

Yay I'm glad it lived up to your hopes!! I still have The Mailbox to read... will get to it soon!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

This sounds a bit like something Marisa de los Santos would write, which of course makes me very interested in it!

TheBookGirl said...

This one sounds amazing. Women's friendships have always fascinated me. So complex, and so upsetting when they are the product of hidden agendas...I must read this one. Your review has me running off to find it :)
(and btw, I don't even own an iron, so I'm not sure what Justine would make of me, lol).

Marybeth said...

Thanks Zibilee. As always your support and encouragement is humbling and fortifying. Can't wait to see you at SIBA. And please save me a seat at that Saturday night dinner. :)

Pam (@iwriteinbooks) said...

Oh, wow, this is so appealing to me right now. Talk about infinite lists of things to do!

Suko said...

Wow! What a review of what sounds like a very complex, well-written book.

Audra said...

Your enthusiasm has added this book to my TBR -- it's not exactly my thing but I love how excited you are about it.

Wall-to-wall books said...

Don't let me discourage you from reading -Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, you might like it. I would suggest getting it from the library instead of buying it (that's what I did). I like weird books too but this wasn't even pleasant weird it was just weird weird!

Tracy said...

I'll definitely look out for this one - could be a good bookclub choice for the future.

Jenny said...

What Jill said! Reading this, all I could think was that it sounds just like a Marisa de los Santos book, and I love her.

Darlene said...

Oh my, this so sounds like a book I would love! Really fantstic review Heather - you sure have me wanting to read it.

Anita said...

I'm really looking forward to reading this one. Meeting Marybeth at the UCF Book Festival was a wonderful experience. She is just so nice!!
Thanks for the enticing review.

nomadreader said...

This review is a classic example of why I love your blog. This novel never would have come to my attention, and if it did, I fear the cover would have made me dismiss it as not my style (bad, I know). Thanks to you, I'm off to snag a copy and see if I love it as much as you did!

Jenners said...

I can't imagine a mom/wife who wouldn't want to read a book like this! Who couldn't relate to Ariel … and who wouldn't want to see the Queen Bee like Justine have a secret problem? I'm so curious now what is going on. Great review … as always!!!!

Amy said...

You read some terrific books that I don't see on many other blogs. I haven't read about this one anywhere else and it sounds fascinating! The premise is so interesting and the characters are thrilling. I am so curious about Jasmine and what Ariel decides to do. I also feel badly for Ariel. I think I need to read the book to see the redeeming qualities Jasmine might have!

Thank you for a terrific review of a thrilling book!

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