Sunday, May 30, 2010

Review - The Season of Second Chances by Diane Meier

The Season of Second Chances by Diane Meier
published 4/10
285 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

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. Amid the half-wanted attention of the campus's single, middle-aged men, known as the Coyotes,and the legitimate dramas of her close-knit community, Joy learns that the key to the affection of family and friends is being worthy of it, and most important, that second chances are waiting to be discovered within us all.

My thoughts:

I'd read a few reviews of this novel before I started reading it, and so was expecting to enjoy it. What I didn't expect was to enjoy it for many of the OPPOSITE reasons as the other reviews I'd read.

Almost universally, I saw readers enjoy the prose - I couldn't agree more. The writing is smart and funny, and Meier's descriptions of Joy's house as she begins to transform it are so vivid I could literally see the wallpaper and paint. I was transfixed as Meier described the revolutionary curriculum Joy contributed to at Amherst, and wished I could have been a part of something like that when I was in college.

While almost everyone enjoyed the writing, several reviewers didn't especially like Joy herself - they found her abrasive, or snotty, or distant. I really liked her - I found her intellect and sense of humor refreshing, and could relate to many of her personality quirks. (I'm not sure what that says about me!) I also noticed a LOT of love for Teddy the handyman - and in many ways, he was my least favorite character. I found his unreasoning attachment to his mother irritating, and many of the "childlike" traits that were supposed to be endearing seemed to me juvenile and ridiculous. Perhaps what this book taught me is that I'm really just a big snob. *grin*

I was particularly interested in Meier's opinions on feminism, particularly modern feminism, and the way it seems to mean such different things to different people. I appreciated her strong, rich, interesting female characters, and could imagine myself being drawn to them for many of the same reasons Joy was.

I found this to be an excellent debut novel, funny and intelligent, thoughtful and full of heart. This is an example of women's fiction at its best.

Finished: 5/25/10
Source: review copy from publicist
MPAA rating: PG-13 for sexual situations, some drug and alcohol use, and some violence
My rating: 8/10

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