Author: Maggie Estep
Published: May 2009 by Akashic Books
First lines: “I’d been trying to get rid of the big oaf for seventeen weeks but he just kept coming around.”
Genre/rating: Literary fiction, 4.5/5 three-legged hounds named Ira
Akashic Books provided a copy of this book.
OK, so long story short: I heart this book. But I guess that’s not much of a review, so I’ll tell you the long(er) story.
This book is about Alice Hunter, her sister Eloise, and their mother Kimberly. All three of them, in my opinion, are Very Interesting People. Alice bets on horse racing for a living. Eloise fell down a manhole and won a million dollars in the legal settlement, so she doesn’t do much except hang around the house and make stuffed animals. Kimberly is a former hippie who has about a billion foster dogs in her house. Each chapter is written in the first person by one of these three women.
Alice’s chapters were my favorite because she’s hilariously blunt and snarky, sometimes to the point of harshness – if she was your friend in real life, she’d be the one you can always count on to be like “What the fuck is wrong with you?” when you’re being an idiot. She’s got a boyfriend she’s been trying to ditch for weeks and yet, somehow, she can’t bring herself to truly and finally end it. He’s a total loser, but the sex is good and he adores her and always tells her she looks fantastic, so she keeps losing her resolve. Eventually she gets frustrated and asks a friend from the racetrack to scare him a little bit so he’ll go away… and then events unfold that I won’t spoil because they kinda shocked the hell out of me. I’ll just say that shit gets real, and Alice eventually learns the importance of appreciating people while you have them, because you can’t expect them to hang around forever if you’re not nice to them.
Her sister, Eloise, is like Alice in a lot of ways, but with softer edges. She’s a little more hopeful, a little more vulnerable (“emotionally visceral,” as Alice puts it), but equally capable of shutting down when she starts getting too many feelings. Her Brazilian trapeze-instructor boyfriend has just died trying to climb up the side of the Queensboro Bridge. She meets a guy named Billy while walking her dog and hooks up with him, and he turns out to be a Giant Asshole. But it’s cool, though, because then she meets a beautiful woman and starts to realize that maybe the love of her life is a lady, so screw you, Billy Rotten!
Kimberly, their mom, is an interesting lady. She used to be a junkie but isn’t anymore. She used to like men but now she likes women. But maybe she still likes men too. She lived her crazy hippie life and now is settled down in Woodstock with a bunch of foster dogs. But our girl Kimberly’s keeping a secret from her daughters, and it’s a doozy.
So those are our three leading ladies, and the book is about their intertwining lives and juicy family drama. I adored it. I loved Maggie Estep’s direct, noir-ish, always-surprising writing style. I loved all three women (Alice and Eloise for how funny and messed-up they are, Kimberly for her softness and good intentions). I loved the dynamic between the two sisters – I don’t have any sisters myself, but I can easily recognize the truth of that peculiar type of loyalty where you’re totally allowed to think your sister’s a bitch but you’ll be damned if you’ll let anyone else call her one.
I saw a lot of myself in Alice and Eloise, too, and maybe that’s why I liked them so much. Eloise says that she is pathologically hopeful, always needing to hope for something even if she doesn’t know what it is. I’m that way too. In a dark moment, Alice tells a friend, “I’m fighting, but I don’t know what I’m fighting,” and I thought, “Girl, I know that feel.” I found myself wanting to know these women in real life. I felt like we could go out and get drunk and have some good talks.
The one part of the book that disappointed me a little was the lack of real resolution to the Billy Rotten thing. I felt like there was more story to be told about him and what his deal was. But then I thought about it some more and realized that it works because that’s how things go in real relationships sometimes. You don’t always get the tidy, satisfying resolution that you want and sometimes you have to accept that you’ll never know the full story or understand why people do what they do. And god, Maggie Estep nails the exquisite agony of being infatuated with a guy who isn’t as into you as you want him to be. You’re all:
And he’s all:
And it’s just the WORST and there’s nothing you can do about it except groan and cringe and pull your hair out until eventually you’re able to move past it.
I could go on and on, but I won’t, because you should read this book yourself. It’s smart, funny, wildly entertaining, and has some beautiful things to say about family and love.