By Diane Meier
Published: Henry Holt and Co.; 2010
Synopsis: Coming-of-age can happen at any age. Joy Harkness had built a university career and a safe life in New York, protected and insulated from the intrusions and involvements of other people. When offered a position at Amherst College, she impulsively leaves the city, and along with generations of material belongings, she packs her equally heavy emotional baggage. A tumbledown Victorian house proves an unlikely choice for a woman whose family heirlooms have been boxed away for years. Nevertheless, this white elephant becomes the home that changes Joy forever. As the restoration begins to take shape, so does her outlook on life, and the choices she makes over paint chips, wallpaper samples, and floorboards are reflected in her connection to the co-workers who become friends and friendships that deepen. A brilliant, quirky, town fixture of a handyman guides the renovation of the house and sparks Joy’s interest to encourage his personal and professional growth.
My Take: Two years ago my boyfriend bought a house in San Francisco and if you know San Francisco, most houses here are old. His was built in the 1920s. Together we had a blast painting walls, hanging molding, and generally making the place a home. So when Diane Meier's book fell into my lap and the main character came alive through her experiences renovating her own home I could totally relate and I completely loved that aspect of it. I haven't read a lot of books that have home renovation as a main theme in them. Food, travel, friendships as a way to discover their true self but I can think of maybe one other book that has home renovation as a central theme to discovering one's sense of self and I think that this is a truly great new theme in fiction.
The heroine of our story, Joy, is a truly sad person. I admit to being incredibly frustrated with her for most of the book. Maybe I would have related to her more if I was older but she had shut herself from others her entire life and assumed that that's how everyone else wanted to live as well, that's probably what bothered me most. As a single woman in New York she had very few friends and at 48 felt she was long past enjoying a date. When she accepted a teaching job that moved her to Amherst, MA she is finally brought out of her shell, however painfully the process is.
An interesting part of Joy's life in her new town is the new relationships that she does make, both with the men and the women. This book really emphasises the power of friendship and how women can really band together and support each other when they are going through hardships. Alternately, as Joy was growing as person the men she chooses to be in a relationship with help her to see that she needs to continue to grow as a person and they both help her to get out of her shell and, as with most relationships that don't work out, see what you do and don't want next in a man!
Joy has to totally reflect on her life throughout this book to discover how she became the way she is. Everyone else around her can she that she is unhappy and closed off and they want to help her. I think a lot of people have probably had periods in their life when they felt like this, certainly after something tragic or a big upset so I think a lot of people can relate to Joy.
I really enjoyed this authors first novel and I look forward to more from her. Please tune in to Amused By Books on this Friday, April 30th when I interview Diane Meier about writing this book as well!
(This book was given to me by the publisher. Thank you!)