Friday, July 1, 2011
Shimmering with warmth, wit, and insight, Joy for Beginners is a celebration of life: unexpected, lyrical, and deeply satisfying. -- Putnam
I so enjoyed Erica Bauermeister's prior novel THE SCHOOL OF ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS (my review) that I couldn't wait to read her new one -- JOY FOR BEGINNERS. I have seen many positive reviews for this novel so I pretty much knew I was in for a treat. And I figured if it was at all like THE SCHOOL OF ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS, then I'd have a few hours of pure entertainment.
I am happy to say that JOY FOR BEGINNERS lived up to my expectations... and probably even exceeded them. I thoroughly enjoyed this beautiful, and very touching, novel. In fact, as was the case of THE SCHOOL OF ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS, this book managed to appeal to almost all of my senses. There were so many exquisite descriptions of delicious food, fine wines, exotic locations, and even quality books. JOY FOR BEGINNERS is definitely one of those novels that will appeal to women of all ages.
JOY FOR BEGINNERS begins when Kate and her friends meet to celebrate Kate's successful battle with cancer. During the party, Kate announces that she has agreed to go white-water rafting with her daughter (despite her extreme fears) if.... and this is a big one... all of her friends complete a challenge that Kate sets for them. Kate comes up with some interesting tasks -- some of which initially don't make much sense. However, Kate obviously knows best because each challenge allows her friends to discover important lessons about themselves and life in general.
JOY FOR BEGINNERS is divided into different sections for each of Kate's friends as well as a final chapter about Kate. This is the same format that Ms. Bauermeister used in THE SCHOOL OF ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS, and I thought it worked well in both novels. I loved getting to know each woman and how they approached Kate's challenges. Of course, there were women whose stories I related to more than others; however, all of the women were terrific (and well developed) characters and I loved seeing how much they grew as a result of completing Kate's amazing challenges.
After reading JOY FOR BEGINNERS, I can now say that I am indeed a fan of Ms. Bauermeister's. I absolutely can't rave enough about all of the ways she can make see, smell, and even taste while reading her wonderful prose. But this novel was much more than just a celebration of the senses. JOY FOR BEGINNERS also evoked very strong feelings in me concerning the "joy" of female relationships and how precious life is. I think most readers will recognize either themselves or their friends in these characters; and I can pretty much promise that you will shed a few tears for these women (and maybe for yourself.) I absolutely treasured this novel because it did evoke so many feelings in me.
I'm sure it's no surprise that JOY FOR BEGINNERS would make a fantastic book club pick. There is a reading guide available with eleven great questions, but I think most female book clubs could jump right in with their own impressions about the characters and their stories. Some of the themes that you might want to further explore include friendship, marriage, love, family dynamics, grief, loss, forgiveness, acceptance, mothering, and healing. It truly is a book filled with so many concepts to ponder.
I highly recommend JOY FOR BEGINNERS for anyone who loves beautiful stories about women. But I have to warn you that you might want to sit down with a box of tissues when you read it.
Thanks to the author for sending me a copy of her novel.