Review: This One is Mine, by Maria Semple

This One is Mine
This One is Mine
by Maria Semple
Back Bay Boo. ks, 320 pages
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Maria Semple’s debut novel This One is Mine sounded like it would be just my thing when the publicist offered me a review copy. Then I read it, and learned that while Semple’s characters are vivid, and her writing voice easy to read, her book wasn’t quite my thing after all.

This One is Mine is the story of Violet, who has violets tatooed behind her ear, and was once a television writer/producer, but who quit working when she became a mother, choosing to focus on raising her baby and caring for the huge L.A. home she and her music producer husband (David) live in. She does this, not on her own, but with the help of the nanny, whom is called LadyGo (which clueful readers figure out about two-thirds of the way into the book comes from the nanny’s habit of retelling conversations with liberal use of the phrase, “Lady go, “blah blah blah…”). In the opening chapters, however, we see a home with a dead rodent in the hot tub, and honey leaking through the kitchen ceiling, two items that are never resolved in the story.

Violet is restless, and feels trapped, and ends up having a short-lived affair with a D-list bass-player named Teddy. It would be wonderful if this affair stirred Violet from her stupor, and sent her either back to the office, or back home to really take charge, but Teddy is so unlikeable – he’s a loser with bad hygiene and a drug habit who pretty much only cares about music, sex, and his car – that this relationship left me feeling as slimy as Violet should have. Seriously, I like to read in the bath, but this book made me want a shower.

Then there’s Sally, David’s sister. 36, beautiful and completely neurotic, she’s latched onto a sports statistician who is about to become famous and successful in a whole new way – she thinks – and when their relationship isn’t everything it seems, doesn’t talk to him the way reasonable adults do, but hides her problems.

Still the book ends on an up note, and despite the overdramatic characters and implausible situations, it’s important to remember that author Semple is, herself, a producer/writer, and this novel is meant to be social satire. And it succeeds well at this. I especially enjoyed David’s trip to a sweat lodge – I laughed so hard at THAT scene that the laughter served in place of allergy relief.

Is it outright funny? I suspect only if you live in L.A. or are close to people who do, will it generate belly laughs. Do I wish I hadn’t read it? No. It was interesting, just…not particularly my thing. I do think its likely to be quite enjoyable for most women, however.

Except for the tattoos of violets behind the main character’s ears. Those, I really liked.