This One Is Mine by Maria Semple

A bored LA housewife falls into a flirtation with a scummy ex-junkie, while her sister-in-law sets about trapping a wealthy husband.

This One Is Mine cuts a lot deeper than my synopsis would imply. It’s not a trashy pulp beach read, but rather a scabrous dissection of the worst of human impulses, with a healthy dose of redemption thrown in at just the right time. In many ways, it reminds me of Elise Blackwell’s Grub, which I called a “satire brimming with humanism.” These are the books I find most memorable, and within the category of literary fiction they’re the ones I’m most likely to reread.

Violet used to be a star TV writer, but ever since the birth of her daughter Dot she wanders aimless through the life she shares with her billionaire music mogul husband David. It’s to Semple’s credit that she makes this power couple seem accessible, perhaps thanks to her stint as a writer on “Arrested Development,” about the least glamorous rich people in the history of all media. A chance meeting with Teddy Reyes, a bass player fond of reminiscing about his junkie days, leads her into an obsessive spiral that consumes her life and threatens her marriage.

Meanwhile, David’s sister Sally has staked her future on snaring a wealthy husband. She’s set her cap for Jeremy, a sports columnist with an uncanny knack for picking winners. She micromanages his courtship of her, oblivious to the reality of the relationship and of Jeremy’s true nature.

Semple successfully skewers a few topics quite dear to my heart. Sally’s storyline is a magnificent takedown of girl culture as expressed through reality TV makeover and bridal shows. And even more amusing are Violet’s forays into a parenting style that bears a close resemblance to Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting, where parents are urged to refrain from any praise at all, lest they diminish their children’s inherent self-worth. The scene in parenting class is just delicious as Semple revels in the minutiae of extreme parenting.

Semple is not afraid to pull punches, but neither does she shy away from giving her characters a heart. I was surprisingly touched by the close of this book. Despite all of the insanity and ugliness that the characters manifested, Semple doesn’t leave them there.

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