April Book Club: THIS ONE IS MINE by Maria Semple

The April EDIWTB book club selection was This One Is Mine, by Maria Semple.

Semple I am having trouble deciding how I feel about this book. I'll start with the plot: it's about Violet and David Parry, a very rich married couple living in LA. Violet is a former TV writer and now stay-at-home mom with a one-year old daughter, and David is her remote and prone-to-criticize music producer husband. They are drowning in money, but have grown apart and alienated from each other. Violet gets involved with Teddy, a very sketchy man she meets during this period of alienation from David - an entanglement with some unexpected consequences. David's sister, Sally, is a ballet instructor in her late thirties and so desperate to get married that she gets engaged to a man she doesn't really know or understand, simply because his career is skyrocketing, but it doesn't bring her the fulfillment she seeks.

The other main character in this book is the city of Los Angeles, for This One Is Mine is really a satire of modern life in LA. (There's even a hand-drawn map of LA in the beginning of the book for readers who may not know where Mulholland Drive is compared to Wilshire Blvd. or the 405.) Semple, a former TV writer herself (including for my beloved Arrested Development), is quite adept at skewering the rich and aimless by revealing the ways they spend their money and time (fancy weddings; yoga sweat lodge retreats; the Hermes store). Most of the characters in this book are some combination of self-absorbed, materialistic, vengeful or desperate, and even if they have their redeeming moments, Semple's deft slash-and-burn makes for some powerful mockery.

But this book isn't always a satire. Sometimes it is instead a straightforward depiction of flawed characters who are motivated by all the wrong things. And for me, that's when the book was less successful, and bordered on implausible. I didn't need these characters to be likable, but I did need to understand them, to feel that what they were doing was consistent or at least explainable. And I couldn't always do that. Most often, my complaints had to to with Teddy and his inexplicable hold on all who came in his orbit. By the end of the novel, even David seemed under his spell. And yet, I saw almost nothing redeeming about him.  

This One Is Mine is a unique book – unpredictable and difficult to categorize. I am glad I read it, and expect that it will stay with me for a while. But I can't say that I loved it. A lot of the time, I felt sort of confused by it. I found this review of This One Is Mine by Miss Meliss on Bibliotica, and I really agreed with it. Like Miss Meliss, I suspect that a lot of people will enjoy this book (and judging by the Amazon reviews, a lot of people did). For me, it was interesting and had its high points, but it didn't work on every level.

I'm really looking forward to hearing what EDIWTB readers have to say about This One is Mine!