Friday, August 7, 2009

The Shortest Distance Between Two Women

I was ready for some frivolous summer reading, so when I saw The Shortest Distance Between Two Women by Kris Radish among the ARCs I was choosing from at the local College Bookstore, I thought it might be just the thing, a romance. The blurb on the back says "she's put a lot of distance between herself and Samuel, filling her life with work and why does his voice still have the power to make her heart skip?" Well, the blurb is misleading. This novel isn't a romance. It's got more of a "strong woman finds herself" plot; the bit about Samuel is merely an impetus for the main character, Emma, to think about where her life went wrong.

I think maybe I'm not the target audience for this novel. I've been married for 27 years today, and even though I got married younger than any of my friends ("too young" my mother said), that still makes me too old to sympathize with a character who is still trying to find herself and it definitely makes me too bitter to admire the adolescent fervor of phrases like "their passion rising like a fine mist throughout the entire club."

A woman in her twenties or thirties, however, might like this story about a woman trying to define herself against her sisters and mother, even though the main character, Emma, is described as 43 (her mother tells her "I was forty-three once, too. I had dreams and longings and plans and that has everything to do with being female and nothing to do with the year I was born and the fact that I am your mother"). The saving grace of the prose is the interwoven humor. The mother goes on to say "Don't ever be sorry for how you feel. Some people don't feel. Some women--well, heavens, many women--give up feeling. They end up like those little doggie dolls people have in their back windows....that move when the car moves and not when they want to move." Since Emma isn't a mother, there's no real reason she has to go on putting the needs of others before her own--although she does say, at a low point for the humor, that "her biological time clock has ticked her off." I was amused by the fact that the chapter in which Emma and her entire family go to see her niece in a beauty pageant is entitled "Are you Little Miss Sunshine groupies or what?"

The events of the novel revolve around a big and purportedly hilarious family reunion, complete with badly-behaved in-laws, rebellious teenagers, and mothers who organize the food and entertainment. What the family members do when they get to the reunion is supposed to provide the climax for the novel, the pause they need because, as one of them points out, "it was easy to get so caught up in your own life that it was hard to see anything else." The climax fell flat for me, though, partly because only an blooming idiot could have failed to see it coming, and partly because Emma's family strikes me as peculiarly mercenary, auctioning off even the rights to join a family wedding party.

Gardening lovers will enjoy the many descriptions of Emma's garden. This one is my favorite: "red hot pokers are gloriously showy....they multiply because they like themselves so much, Emma thinks, and she is also beyond certain that they are always saying 'The more the merrier. Let's take over this whole damn yard.' And they would if Emma did not thin them out..." The black-eyed susans in her garden also have a lot of personality.

Overall, though, reading this novel was like attending someone else's family reunion, at least for me. I don't have sisters, I'm mostly over that "oh God I'm becoming my mother" stage, and I don't think it's terribly funny or original to hear that someone in a fictional family "went on a sweet rampage and took all the music players, cell phones, and other electronic junk from the teenagers so they would actually talk to each other and the rest of us." Wait, maybe I'm not too old--maybe Emma is supposed to be like the motivational poster available from one with the sinking ship that says "it could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others."

This novel will be available August 18, so if you feel the need for a warning about the way your life is going, rush right out. And if you are still worried you're going to turn into your mother? Maybe you do need to read this novel in an effort to forget what Oscar Wilde says: "all women become like their mothers."


bermudaonion said...

I've been married for 30 years, so I'm probably too old for this one too.

Cschu said...

Well. It's coming out on my birthday, but that doesn't seem to make it fate for me to run out and buy it. I will take your cautionary tale and read something else on my long list of desired books.

I did buy a book about a woman who loses her job and goes off to Paris to study cooking at Cordon Bleu, though. It sounded like fun. I will let you know.

Kristen said...

I read her first book with high hopes but was disappointed as it sounded more like she's taken some therapy advice (she's a therapist or something like that if I am recalling correctly) and packed a meager story around it. Sounds like this one isn't terribly likely to enchant me either. Too bad. Such intriguing premises.