Summary: From the author of A MAP OF THE WORLD and THE BOOK OF RUTH comes an entirely different kind of novel: a funny, sexy, and provocative satire about marriage.
Laura and Charlie Rider have been married for twelve years. Together they've run the Prairie Wind Farm nursery in picturesque Wisconsin, where they share a passion for gardening, which overshadowed Laura's physical passion for Charlie long ago. Still, theirs are mostly happy lives -- as long as Charlie can continue his simple life of working the land and Laura can keep reading novels while privately writing her own.
Jenna Faroli is the host of a popular radio how and is "the single most famous person in the Town of Dover," in Laura's eyes. When Jenna happens to cross Charlie's path one day and they begin an e-mail correspondence, how can Laura resist using Charlie to try out her new writing skills and converse with her hero? Together, Laura and Charlie craft florid, strangely intimate messages that entice Jenna in an unexpected way. Things quickly spin out of control as the lines between Laura's words and Charlie's feelings are blurred and complicated, and Jenna ha a profound effect on the couple that transforms all three of them in the end. -- Grand Central Publishing
When I first finished LAURA RIDER'S MASTERPIECE by Jane Hamilton, I didn't know quite what to say. It wasn't like any other Jane Hamilton book that I'd ever read. I definitely enjoyed the story, but I couldn't really put a finger on why. I couldn't stand (maybe that's a bit harsh) any of the main characters, so it wasn't that I related to them. I think it's because Ms. Hamilton is a fabulous writer who knows how to tell a story (plus the book was very, very funny!)
Immediately upon putting down this novel, I went to Twitter and mentioned that I thought I might have a hard time reviewing this book. I was surprised that a few fellow bloggers piped in right away with their thoughts. We had quite a little book club discussion going on surrounding this book. As I tweeted with these people and actually had to put my thoughts down (albeit briefly in 140 characters or less), I discovered that I really enjoyed this book. And, I definitely appreciated what Ms. Hamilton set out to do with this novel. I found myself laughing as much, if not more, when revisiting scenes with some tweople!
I found the premise of this novel to be very unique -- Laura Rider decides that she wants to write a romance novel. While she admits that she hasn't read many books in her lifetime, she thinks that if she reads how-to books from the library she can learn to be a writer (this question begs to be asked -- what makes a successful writer?) She also decides that she needs to learn everything she can about what women really want. This might not sound that far out until Laura decides to "help" her husband have a relationship with a local radio personality Jenna (whom Laura idolizes.) She and her husband start out writing e-mails together in the hopes of wooing Jenna. You can kind of imagine how things might go from there.
I mentioned earlier that I didn't really like any of the characters. Laura was manipulative and very self-centered; and often times I just wanted to shake her. However, that being said she did make for good entertainment; and I eventually found myself feeling sorry for her (at times.) As I learned more about her past, I did feel some compassion towards her -- to a certain extent, she was a product of her environment. I also didn't really "like" Laura's husband Charlie or his love interest Jenna, but I so appreciated their relationship and had many moments where I found myself laughing over their antics.
There is no doubt that Ms. Hamilton is a fantastic writer! She definitely kept my attention throughout the entire story because I had to find out what Laura was going to do next. I was impressed with her ability to tell this story in such a short book (only a little over 200 pages) and to incorporate so much humor into this entertaining satirical novel. If you'd like a little more insight into the character of Laura, check out this article written by Ms. Hamilton called The Birth of a Writer.
I definitely recommend LAURA RIDER'S MASTERPIECE for book clubs. There is a great deal to talk about as I learned when mentioning the book on Twitter. The characters and their actions are ripe for discussion, and I'd love to hear some more opinions about them. In addition, I think it would be fascinating to talk about what constitutes an artist/writer as well as the whole nature/nurture idea. There will be no lack of opinions on this novel!
A big thanks to Hachette Book Group for sending me an ARC of LAURA RIDER'S MASTERPIECE.
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A Novel Menagerie