Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Review: Wrong Highway by Wendy Gordon

Siblings can be so very different. They can look like they came from different families. They can face different expectations from those around them. Even similar seeming siblings are different people and life shapes them differently. Sometimes they seem to go such opposite directions in order to differentiate themselves from each other, to be unique, to be individuals. Some of the differences though, are a function of their inherent personalities and while they may not be obvious on the outside, underneath they lead to very different choices and lives. In Wendy Gordon's novel Wrong Highway, younger sister Erica, called Rikki by her family, has spent her whole life rebelling against those things that define her older sister Debbie and although their adult lives might look somewhat similar, Erica is traveling down a completely different highway than Debbie, what turns out to be a very wrong highway indeed.

Erica has always been more free-spirited and impulsive than her buttoned up, rule following older sister. Right from childhood they've made very different decisions in their lives. Now as adults in the mid nineteen eighties, Erica is the married mother of four. Her husband works for a high powered investment firm and he's very successful at what he does. She spends her days running her kids around and going to her exercise class. Debbie is also married with one troubled, teenaged son. Her husband works as on-air talent at a local radio station and she works part time in a beauty salon. Both women live out on Long Island not far from their parents. On the surface at least, their lives are not so dissimilar but underneath, they are still the very different personalities they've always been.

Erica is bored with her life. The biggest rush she's had recently is childbirth. Otherwise she spends her time in stultifying mundanity, listening to her sister's domestic and health problems. One family dinner, she realizes that her nephew Jared is high and that knowledge lights a little spark for her. Acting under the guise of the cool aunt who cares about his well-being more than his overbearing parents, she asks him to help her get her own pot and gets him talking to her about his home life. And this is where she starts making wrong decision after wrong decision for him, for her sister, for herself, and for her own children.

Erica as a character is immature and entirely unlikable. Following along with her is worse than watching a train wreck and the reader wants to not only slap her, they will want to smack all those around her who cannot see just how out of control she has grown. Her husband is consumed with his own issues; his company is under federal investigation and people are going to go to jail so he has no idea what is going on with Erica. Her sister is juggling her resentful son, her husband's hair-trigger temper, and a long standing resentment about her sister's seemingly golden life.

Gordon has drawn a tiny sliver of the glittering wealth and expensive drug culture that is part of the definition of the eighties here and she's done it well. Suburban Erica's decent into unacknowledged addiction and terrible decisions is also depicted well. And Gordon is a skilled writer. But the story itself is disagreeable and each of the characters are insufferable. It's hard not to read along and condemn spoiled, unpleasant, and pettish Erica as well as everyone around her. Debbie comes off as a whiny, not very smart hypochondriac. And her husband is a nasty, slimy piece of work. When every decision, by every character, is one that the reader knows is wrong, it's hard to get much enjoyment from the read. The major climax of the novel doesn't manage to redeem any of the characters and changes the tone of the book quite a bit. The ending is rather open but at least marginally positive, and perhaps too easy at that given the downward spiral of the rest of the novel. The book is well written but I couldn't enjoy it. I kept hoping for something that would draw me in; unfortunately that just didn't happen.

For more information about Wendy Gordon, take a look at her web page. Check out the book's Good Reads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

1 comment:

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