Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Review: The Good Woman by Jane Porter

How much of our personality is innate and how much of it develops because of familial expectations? If a child is always considered the "good child" or the "reliable child" what would it take finally, as an adult, to rebel against this image? How many people will be hurt in the testing of boundaries? And is it ever possible to go back to being the person you were before? Meg Brennan Roberts, the oldest of four sisters, is a very successful publicist for a California vineyard, a reliable, steadfast wife and mother, and a loving daughter. Her life appears to be idyllic and yet she is feeling a nagging sense of unhappiness, making her open to the possibility of an affair, becoming the "bad woman," and altering her life forever in Jane Porter's first novel in the new Brennan Sisters series.

Meg is the family caretaker, the one everyone else relies on in every aspect of life. She makes the parties and publicity at her job run smoothly. She manages her childrens' lives so that there are no bumps in their roads as they go from school to activities and home. She is the unacknowledged and under-appreciated rock who allows her husband to continue his absent-minded, job-obsessed existence. She is the sounding board for two of her three sisters' concerns. And she's tired of it. She's vaguely dissatisfied, wanting more from those she loves. It doesn't help that she feels rebuffed sexually by her husband on those occasions she reaches for him. The only aspect of her life that is feeling completely fulfilling is her work life. So when her gorgeous boss asks her to fly to London with him for a trade show, despite reservations, she ultimately agrees to go. And when boss Chad admits to his attraction to her, she gets a glimpse of herself as a whole different person than the one she feels she's settled into being. Heady stuff.

Once they return, Meg cannot keep from thinking about the possibilities. She's always been the "good girl." The sister with whom she is most antagonistic calls her Sister Mary Margaret. But she's drawn to Chad and to the life he represents. The rest of the Brennan sisters and her parents are all immersed in their own life altering dramas so no one notices that the family Snow White is drifting. And when she makes her decision, feeling unable to do anything but what she's chosen, her choice will reverberate through her life, that of her husband and children, and through her siblings and parents' lives as well.

Meg is an amiable enough character and her feelings of being taken for granted and ignored in her own life will be more than familiar to many women. Her inability to find the acknowledgement and appreciation she craves will definitely strike a cord. But she has some flaws of her own, chief among them her lack of communication with her husband and her family. As the go-to sister, she has no one to turn to herself when she is floundering. This effect is exacerbated by the fact that each of the women in the family is facing her own crisis. And in some ways, this crisis overload is a problem in the narrative. Too many issues intrude on Meg's story: one sister's long term relationship ending, one sister's inability to trust her cheating sports star husband, and her mother's terminal cancer diagnosis. Because this is the book that sets up the rest of the series, the issues need to be raised but they threaten to overwhelm the major storyline here. And although Meg has faced infidelity, understanding that it isn't as black and white as she always thought, as a character in the end she hasn't changed nearly as much as might have been expected given the path she walked.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.

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