Friday, August 21, 2009
The Rest of Her Life
From Publishers Weekly
Moriarty's follow-up to book-group favorite The Center of Everything again explores a tense, fragile mother-daughter relationship, this time finding sharper edges where personal history and parenting meet. Now a junior high school English teacher married to a college professor, Leigh has spent much of her adult life trying to distance herself from her dysfunctional childhood. Raising their two children in a small, safe Kansas town not far from where Leigh and her troubled sister, Pam, were raised by their single mother, Leigh finds her good fortune still somewhat empty. Daughter Kara, 18 and a high school senior, is distant; sensitive younger son Justin is unpopular; Leigh can't seem to reach either—Kara in particular sees Leigh (rightly) as self-absorbed. When Kara accidentally hits and kills another high school girl with the family's car, Leigh is forced to confront her troubled relationship with her daughter, her resentment toward her husband (who understands Kara better) and her long-buried angst about her own neglectful mother. The intriguing supporting characters are limited by not-very-likable Leigh's POV, but Moriarty effectively conveys Leigh's longing for escape and wariness of reckoning.
It’s true that Leigh is not-very-likable. In fact, she’s down-right annoying, even after her best friend calls her on her self-centeredness. I often wanted to reach into the pages and wring her neck. Leigh has tried to leave behind her unhappy childhood, but she has overcompensated by being stand-offish, even with her own daughter. The tragedy is that Leigh doesn’t see that her attitude has alienated almost everyone around her.
The book is so skewed towards Leigh’s perspective that at times I forgot it wasn’t being told from the first person point of view. So while we learn all about Leigh, it’s hard to get to know the other characters, particularly Kara. I often felt myself wondering what was going through her head. While the Kara’s accident is the catalyst for everything that happens in the book, Kara spends most of her time in her room, a place the story (and Leigh) doesn’t often venture.
Despite my vexation (hah…I love that word…it’s so old-fashioned) with Leigh, I still flew through this book. Despite the topic, it’s an engaging read.
I read The Center of Everything at the end of 2007…I think I liked that one better though, because the main character was in high school during the 80’s, and all of the familiar cultural references were entertaining. Also, this one has that increasingly familiar back-of-a-woman’s-head cover. It seems like everywhere I look lately there’s a book with that choice of cover art. What’s up with that?