Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Deep Down True / by Juliette Fay

Homemaker Dana Stellgarten has a tendency to be a little too nice. Consequently people, even the ones she loves, take advantage of her open, companionable nature and generosity, something which seems especially evident now at a particularly volatile time in her life. Her husband Kenneth recently left her for another, younger woman and now she and her two kids--Morgan, 12, and Grady, 7--have to get by on the meager monthly alimony checks. When Dana's teenage niece Alder shows up on the front door, wanting to move in after another falling out with her mom, it seems things can't get any worse. They do though. Before long, Dana learns that her daughter (only a sixth grader) is bulimic and Grady, whom she knows has been deeply wounded by the divorce (but how deeply?), has been fighting and causing trouble in school. Alder too, still sleeping on the couch a month after her arrival, has something going on which Dana suspects may not be entirely respectable. And what is she going to do now that her ex-husband's just told her that he's working at half his normal salary? A weaker mother might be reeling from the seemingly endless succession of woes but strangely, with Dana, that's not the case at all.

When Juliette Fay's debut novel Shelter Me, published in 2009, managed to distinguish itself from the other, always endless proliferation of domestic fiction novels, many readers and critics chalked it up as a one-hit wonder. It wasn't. With the same effortless storytelling of Anna Quindlen and the striking familiar-ness of Elizabeth Berg, Fay's Deep Down True attracts the reader with a welcomed magnetism, managing to do what so many other similarly written novels can't avoid: lose the interest of the reader mid-way through leaving the anticlimactic conclusion just that--a disappointing anti-climax. Dana as a character is both sympathetic but flawed, limited yet capable, thoroughly revealing that the disproportionate amoung of careless offenses and injuries tossed her way are very much felt and internalized like anyone else would feel them. There's a curious, yet entirely accurate, way in which Dana is affected by and reacts to her life circumstances. She's subjected to the very same social threshing floor her kids are confronted by, misled by her own judgments, plagued by her desire for acceptance and inept at expressing her emotions. And quite a bit of the book is devoted to just the type of extremely uncomfortable emotional navigation faced by people at all levels, a world of untrustworthy peers and awakened sensitivities which, as Fay is so apt at detailing, changes little with age. As it follows through very well on the world seen through Dana's eyes, the novel conveys a colorful portrait of an imperfect yet not despairing, broken-hearted yet willing-to-work-at-it character who grows up a little in her own way right alongside her kids. (FIC FAY)

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