I am a huge fan of Maria Semple’s work, all around. She’s snarky, sarcastic, and her characters second guess the very lifestyle that so many would die for. This One is Mine (2008) was Maria Semple’s first novel, and her sarcasm, wit, and exasperation of upper-middle-class lifestyle carry on through her later novels as well: Where’d You Go, Bernadette? (2012) and Today Will be Different (2016).
Violet is an upper class housewife living in Los Angeles, bored with her life. Sounds par for the course, if you ask me. Her husband works at a record label (of course), and she has a daughter whom she’s supposed to care for, but actually has a foreign woman (LadyGo, she calls her) care for her daughter Dot most of the time, instead. Violet feels stagnant and trapped, with no way to be creative now that she doesn’t write TV shows anymore. The epitome of first world problems.
Then she meets a struggling musician whose car broke down. She helps him – like, foots the entire car repair bill, which totals something in the thousands. He’s younger than her, he’s mysterious, and after he blatantly divulges that he has hepatitis C, Violet is somewhat sadistically attracted to him. Thus, yet another stereotype comes into play: bored housewife has affair with attractive younger man.
Transposed with this storyline is that of Violet’s sister-in-law Sally and her desire to be the perfect woman. She’s in her twenties, a dancer whose ballet career ended too soon thanks to an injury, and she wants nothing more than to have that perfect life with the big rock on her finger, the huge house, and all the money. She thrives on money. She’s also hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt due to her own ineptitude mixed with a bad deal in a breakup.
So, in her shallow attempt to get rich quick, Sally befriends Jeremy, who isn’t famous yet, but he’s about to be, and Sally wants to seal the deal before he gets famous so nobody thinks she’s with him for his money. Even though she is.
Generally, the series of ups and downs was enough to keep me interested, especially when all storylines converge towards the end with Violet’s husband’s realization of the affair, and Sally’s shallow hatred of anyone even slightly neurodivergent (even if it means hating her husband). The book is a harsh reality of life in some pockets of the world: the perfect entertainment for people who are exhausted with that upper class facade of perfection, or who know they’ll never have to deal with problems quite so trite.
My biggest problem with the book, however, was the lack of anyone to really care about. Basically all characters excepting the toddler are certainly not perfect, but to the degree that it’s difficult to get invested in them. You know how some books make you really want a certain character to have a happy ending, or to at least have a slightly-less-painful resolution to their situation? This book didn’t do that. Some tertiary characters were kind, and I sort of wanted them to be happy, but they weren’t important enough to the story to really get resolution. The characters on which the novel focused were all despicable, in some way or another.
All in all, This One is Mine was an enjoyable read, but it’s not a book I’m chomping at the bit to go out and purchase (I read the library’s copy). It certainly doesn’t hold a candle to Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, my favorite Semple novel to date. But it was a quick read with a plot that kept me interested more than the characters did. I’d call it a good poolside read – and with summertime finally here, that’s exactly the kind of book I need.