26 August 2013

Book Review: Someone Else's Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson

I had the opportunity a couple of weeks ago to attend a publisher dinner in Boston sponsored by William Morrow publishing.  These things are generally a lot of fun--or at least they are when I don't arrive late and a trio of drunk librarian bookblocks me (kinda like cockblocking, but with bookish things), but this one was especially fun for a variety of reasons: my husband was able to come with me as my date, I got to chat briefly with a Rhode Island bookseller I've been wanting to meet, I knew two of the authors personally (Beth Ann Fennelly and Tommy Franklin, the most gorgeous literary couple you could ever wish to meet), and I came away wanting to read an author whose books I've never paid attention to before.  In other words, that night for me was all winning, all the time.

So, Joshilyn Jackson...As I mentioned, I'd never read her before.  But then she walked into the room and started talking about her new book and kinda made me wonder why my head had been up my ass for so long.  This woman is funny.  Damn funny.  And smart.  And did I mention the funny?  She's also Southern, so when she sat down across from me, we got our drawl on, much to the amusement (and possible dismay) of the Yankee booksellers surrounding us.

Someone Else's Love Story is very much a relationship book.  Not necessarily a romance book, because just as much of the time it's about the relationship between a parent and a child or two best friends from childhood. Since most of the fiction I read could open with the line, "It was a dark and literary night," this book was something of a revelation. It's snappily written without necessarily being literary, and though there are some darker moments, it is, overall, a lighter read. I also think that children are particularly difficult to write well in books for adults, but Jackson succeeds on that front.

There are two narrators in this book: A first person narration from Shandi, who is young mother to little Natty, best friend to Walcott, and daughter of a whacked out and divorced set of parents.  Then there's a third person narration telling the story of William, a genetics scientist who is somewhere on the autistic/Asperger's spectrum and grieving from the loss of his wife and little girl from a car crash.   Thank goodness his own best friend, Paula, is there to help pick up the pieces.

One year to the date after said car crash, William and Shandi cross paths in a Circle K during an armed robbery, an event that binds them together for the rest of the novel. The moment William puts himself directly between Natty and the barrel of the gun, Shandi falls for him. Nobody is happy about this, least of all Shandi's friend Walcott or William's friend Paula.  In the mean time, Shandi and Natty have moved out of her mother's place in the country to move into her father's townhouse in, well, town in an effort to be closer to her school--she's gone back to school to finish her degree after taking time off for Natty's birth.

Amidst the trauma of being held at gunpoint and living in the city again, Shandi makes the decision to enlist William's help in discovering the boy who sexually assaulted her when she was in high school.  Here's where it gets a bit complicated.  You see, technically Shandi was a virgin when she gave birth to Natty.  Yes, she'd been assaulted, but her would-be rapist got his jollies on, er, prematurely and thus the virgin birth.

Anxieties, middle class mayhem, a Molotov cocktail, and unconventional love letters ensue. In the end, the author throws a couple of twists (one of which I actually did not see coming).  I loved this book up until the last 40 pages or so, and then I downshifted into merely liking it, but I have to say, this was one of those books that kept distracting me whenever I wasn't reading it. This book definitely wasn't my usual read, but I'm awfully glad that I broke through and discovered this author. Her writing is infused with warmth and humor, and who says a book where nothing truly terrible happens is a bad thing?  (Well, Cormac McCarthy probably says that...)

Here is an excerpt from her acknowledgements, which is a fairly representative sample of her writing. I kind of love this, not least because she thanks booksellers like me and uses the word "posse":
 I cannot function as a human, much less as a writer, without the following four posses: My reader posse: That's pretty much you, Person Who Bought This Book.  You are letting me keep this job I love.  Thank you. If you're one of those passionate and miraculous bookstore handsellers or big-mouthed, wonderful readers who recommend my books to other people, then I feel so warmly toward you, we should probably make out a little.
See what I mean?  Funny stuff.  She goes on to thank her writer posse, her family posse, and her Jesus posse, and immediately ends with "Shalom, y'all."  Joshilyn Jackson is a person I want to know.  And maybe make out with a little.

NB: This book will be published in December 2013 by William Morrow. I read an ARC that I received upon my request. 

11 comments:

  1. Hahaha bookblocking

    I know you said this is a lighter read but all the car crash! dead girlfriend and children! armed robbery! sexual assault! does not make me think "light hearted romp"

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    1. Well...when you put it that way...

      But there are lots of laughs and playing with Lego and Star Wars, and fireworks and fun bonding moments between friends. LOTS of those things. Which I guess is why it felt pretty light for me.

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  2. I have a copy of this one and can't wait to get to it. I havne't read Joshilyn Jackson before, either, but I'm a sucker for good Southern fiction, so I have a sense this one is going to be perfect for me.

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    1. I'll have to be on the lookout for more of her books. I don't know why, precisely, but I'd always sort of dismissed her books as things not of interest to me. Now I know better! And you're right--I love that southern flavor of hers.

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  3. I've got this one coming up and thanks to your review I'm actually looking forward to it ;)

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    1. I look forward to your take on it when the time comes!

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  4. Anyone who offers to make out a little is automatically in my top 10% of human beings.

    ALSO the title makes me get Someone Else's Story from Chess the Musical stuck in my head. Which is actually a plus, as that's a great song.

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    1. Yeah, you mentioned that song on Goodreads. Maybe you can sing that one, too, at our next getogether!

      making out a little. it's a good thing.

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  5. I'm already thoroughly confused by the plot of this book and can't keep any of the names straight, but I'm SO reading it. No question about that.

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  6. I agree with Red that this isn't really a "light" read... although Jackson certainly injects plenty of her wonderful brand of humor into it. I've known Joshilyn since 2007 and have read all her books. So glad you finally met her! I'm linking to your review here on my own blog post today: "Getting Steamy on the Page with Beth Ann and Joshilyn": http://susancushman.com/writing-on-wednesday-getting-steamy-on-the-page-with-beth-ann-and-joshilyn/

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    1. True, it's not a light book, but the steadfast humor and light touch that the author uses makes it deceptive.

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