Friday, February 01, 2008

#11 - Belong To Me

First of all, please forgive me because this post is going to be so weepy and girlie that anyone not feeling particularly feminine may feel alienated. As I had been doing so much non-work related reading on vacation, I felt that I had to pay some attention to some of our upcoming titles and took this book with me after Charidy sent around a note that was so compelling it was impossible NOT to want to read Belong to Me. She had read and loved Marisa de los Santos's first novel, Love Walked In, years ago, had high expectations for this book, and was not disappointed.

Fast forward to Wednesday afternoon, when I'm waiting and waiting and waiting for the doctor to see me. There was a wonderful old woman sitting next to me whose name was Diana, and her middle-aged daughter was so tender, caring, and well, good spirited, that I spent much of my time smiling at them and making idle chatter. Even so, I managed to read enough of Belong to Me to get so hooked that I actually turned off the television on Wednesday night waiting for my RRHB and our house guest to return from dinner. And then, I read the rest in bed until about 2 AM because the cough was keeping me up anyway and I might as well do something productive if I wasn't sleeping.

Annnywaaay. Told from three inter-connecting points of view, Belong to Me could be described as a modern suburban drama. Taking place in a sleepy, yet totally high brow suburb of Philadelphia where looks matter and status is everything, at first it's hard to tell where de los Santos is going. Each of the characters are so very different, it's almost impossible to see what connects them -- until the glistening, glorious and delicious end when it all becomes clear, that is.

Cornelia, married to the gorgeous Dr. Teo (he's an oncologist), finds herself adrift almost from the moment she lands in town, a place not unlike the wistful suburb where she and her husband grew up (they've known each other since they were four but their romantic relationship developed much later in their lives), and makes a quasi fool of herself at a dinner party. The novel opens: "My fall from suburban grace, or, more accurately, my failure to achieve the merest molehill of suburban grace from which to fall, began with a dinner party and a perfectly innocent, modestly clever, and only faintly quirky remark about Armand Assante."

From there, Cornelia tries to fit in to her new surroundings, failing to look, act or submit to the usual social niceties that would ensure she would make some new friends and become a good neighbour. Only it doesn't work that way, as Queen Bee Piper swoops in and shows Cornelia who's boss before we even hit page six. Shocking then, when Piper turns up as the protagonist whose point of view we take over in the next chapter. As we get inside Piper's head toward the beginning of the novel, she sort of comes across like a Bree from in the first season of Desperate Housewives clone, until a tragedy turns her life, her values and her whole world inside out.

The third narrator, a thirteen-year-old boy named Dev, might just be the heart and soul of the book, and de los Santos's talents at bringing to life his particular brand of teenage angst (hard luck at school, somewhat wacky but good intentioned mother, super-smart kid with a brain that's always going) soar in ways that made me a little nostalgic, especially in the scenes where he falls in love for the first time with an equally special young girl. As an aside, I couldn't help but think of the one boy that I felt that way about when I was their age, and how that relationship, idyllic, somewhat silly, and always special, remains one of the reasons (among many) that I can say I had a blissfully happy childhood. But there are emotional connections like that all through this book, which is why I think, overall, it's incredibly successful.

Heart spills out all over Belong to Me: messy, angry, wonderful, aching, honest, and open heart. It's a novel about women and their relationships with each other; it's about how tragedy can rip open your world and put it back together again in ways one might not recognize; it's about the meaning and making of family; and, in more ways than one, it's about love that comes in all shapes and sizes. Moments in this novel ring so true that it was impossible not to bawl like a baby (and I did cry openly at least four times). And while the emotional centre of the book switches as each character takes a turn telling their own story, it never looses any sense of the pure heart the narrative voice contains on the whole.

A bit Tom Perrotta (Charidy's comp), a bit Ann Patchett (it's a snow globe world for sure), with a little Carol Shields thrown in for good measure (it made me think of Unless), I highly recommend this book for bookclubs, for that lonely night when your significant other might be out of town and you're dying for that little something the latest Cameron Diaz movie has failed, yet again, to provide, for mothers or women looking to become mothers -- it's a book that deserves to be passed around from friend to friend like a secretly coded game of telephone that says, "look, this is how much I love you."

Now, who wants my copy? Anyone? Anyone?

PHOTO IN CONTEXT: The book sat atop What is the What, which I have now returned to reading, on my bedside table. Other things necessary for bedtime: ceramic holder for my rings, ear plugs, super-duper hand cream clutter the shot.


sam lamb said...

ME please!

I read "Loved Walked In" when I came back from Winnipeg and I truly loved it. As soon as I realized the same characters were in this novel I stopped reading your review...just in case.

Les said...

A friend passed the link to your review on to me, thinking it sounded like something I might enjoy. It sounds like a great read. Fabulous review. You've piqued my interest.

Beth said...

Sounds great. The comparison to Perrota, Patchett and Shields sold me.

Emma said...

I read Love Walked In over the holidays and fell in love with the characters. I can't wait to read the next one - thanks for the review!

BTW, I found my way here via Chicklit.