The Stuff That Never Happened

Thursday, November 10, 2016

I have decided I have a small literary crush on the author Maddie Dawson (please don't tell my husband). Within the first couple of pages of The Stuff That Never Happened I was confessing my love for her and her heroines on Twitter for all the world to see. There is just something about her smart sassy quirky women that makes me want to hang out with them regularly, just so I can laugh at their sassy take on the world. I want to be Annabelle's Magda...but I'm getting ahead of myself.

First I have to say a little something about nervously reading an author you have decided you like's other books and praying that book you connected with wasn't a one off. I've been a few days without a review because I kept picking up books...reading a chapter...going meh...and then grabbing another one, which makes it very hard to write a review. Nothing was hooking me, pulling me into their story. But one day as I was shelving books I saw this Maddie Dawson copy, just sitting on the end of the shelf waiting for me to notice it. And I LOVED The Survivor's Guide to Family Happiness so I thought...I wonder if I'll like her other stuff? Because sometimes you think an author is going to be an automatic buy for you...everything they publish you are buying on the release date and placing it with honor on the prime real-estate eye-level spot on your bookshelf...and then you get burnt by a few less than stellar stinkers and begin to wonder about your taste in authors. I can now officially say Maddie Dawson is on my automatic buy list.

And it's not that her books are overly complicated tomes of "literature". For the most part I would say they could best be described as contemporary women's lit...book club books with relatable stories. But the thing that sets them apart for me is just how smart her humor and dialogue is. I may be about to alienate half of my readers here...but bear with me. It's like comparing the Gilmore Girls to the Secret Life of the American Teenager...both shows with teen characters interacting with their moms. Or comparing Dawson's Creek to 90210...both about groups of teens. One is smart...with smart dialogue...and the other one not so much.

Okay, time to stop dilly-dallying around, insulting people's television viewing, and review the book (Just an fyi, not meant as an insult. I wouldn't know what those shows were like if I hadn't watched them!! LOL).

Annabelle McKay has been married to her husband Grant for 28 years. They live in rural New Hampshire, where Grant works as a Professor and Annabelle illustrates children's books. Their two children are grown and out of the house...one in college and the other in NYC with her first baby on the way. Things are stable and incredibly predictable for her...which equates to a little bit boring. Her husband schedules their Wednesday morning sex sessions for crying out loud.
Anyway, Annabelle is struggling with her new life as an empty-nester, which has got her thinking about an old love and what could've been. Would life be more exciting with Jeremiah, the man she had an affair with when she and Grant first got married? Is Grant ever going to look up from the book he's writing and see her...I mean REALLY SEE her again?? When her daughter has a pregnancy complication and she goes to New York City to help take care of her, she has a lot of time to think about these things. And a chance encounter with Jeremiah at the marketplace complicates things a tad.

I really enjoyed this book. Each chapter alternates between her now, and her in the seventies...which I really loved. You get a glimpse into how Annabelle and Grant got to where they are today. There are family struggles...struggles in finding your way as an adult. Plus a whole lot of insight into how your children may see you totally different from how you see yourself. How having the illusion of the perfect relationship can hamper difficult conversations with your adult children. If they feel you have never struggled, how are they to take your advice when life gets difficult for them??

I know some reviewers didn't like the character Annabelle, but I really did. I apparently don't need my heroines to be perfect people. I am a fan of flaws. I think you can make stupid decisions, but that doesn't make you a bad person. I also enjoyed the character Grant...and getting a little insight into the way he thought about their marriage. His internal struggles in how best to take care of his family and keep them from harm were intriguing. I find some women authors have trouble writing complex male characters, and vice versa. But Grant was not a cliche, which can be a little rare in contemporary women's fiction.

I think this would be a great book club book, just to hear other people's take on morphing familial structures...changing into an empty nest lifestyle, and finding yourself as a woman once you are no longer "raising" your kids. And also there is that whole infidelity thing, and how your mind can inflate past flames into superhuman specimens of manhood that are nothing even close to reality.

So, I'd love to hear if you have any automatic buy authors...ones who consistently satisfy your reading cravings. And whether you're okay with flawed heroines. Let me know either here or over on my Facebook page!

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