Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Underside of Joy

The Underside of Joy, by Seré Prince Halverson.

I recently read a study that claimed happy people aren't made. They're born. Happiness, the report pointed out, is all about genetics - a cheerful gene passed merrily, merrily down from one smiling generation to the next. I know enough about life to understand the old adage that one person can't make you happy, or that money can't buy happiness. But I'm not buying this theory that your bliss can only be as deep as your gene pool.

For three years, I did backflips in the deep end of happiness.


I read this book for the BlogHer Book Club, and it was so good that I devoured it in 2 days. Even more surprisingly, it is the debut novel for the author, and she says in the "thank you" page at the end that it was rescued from the "slush pile" (from which random submissions, rather than asked-for ones, come from), and so I'm very glad it was published.

The Underside of Joy paints a picture of the domestic bliss between Ella Beene and her husband, Joe Capozzi, who has two children: Annie, 6, and Zach, 3. Their birth mother left them when Zach was only a few months old, saying that she wasn't cut out for motherhood, and she went to live with her aunt in Las Vegas and has not been heard from since. One day, Joe goes out to take some photographs, and instead ends up hitting his head and drowning. Ella then realizes she never actually "adopted" the children, and things become more complicated when the birth mother, Paige, who now has pulled her life together, shows up and wants custody of them, even though she hasn't been around for the past three years. The Capozzis rally around Ella and try to help her win custody, though there are further complications - both physical and moral - that abound.

The book is very well-written, and the story could happen to anyone, which is what drew me in, I think. Ella wants to do what is right for the children, and at the beginning she is convinced that only she can care for them; by the end, however, she realizes that they have the right to see Paige as well. There's also a secondary story involving the grocery store that has been in Joe's family for generations, and the way that his grandparents, who were Italian, were treated by the U.S. government during World War II; they were sent to internment camps, even though they weren't Japanese. The ending of the novel is a little bit of a cop-out, in my opinion - a "yay, it all worked out" ending - but it suits the book nonetheless.

4.5 stars out of 5.

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