Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Review: More to Life by ReShonda Tate Billingsley

If someone asked you to define yourself, how would you do it? Would you start off by saying you're a wife and mother or would you start with something else that didn't define yourself in terms of other people? It can be hard, especially when you are that wife and mother, to keep the essence of who you are, to not lose yourself in trying to be only a wife and mother, to hold onto the passions and interests that made pre-kid and pre-marriage you happy and fulfilled. In ReShonda Tate Billingsley's newest novel, her main character discovers just this and finds that maybe there's no such thing as too late to rediscover yourself.

Aja James is turning forty-five. Her amazing husband, a handsome and wealthy reporter in Houston, is sending Aja and her three best friends to the Dominican Republic for a birthday bash. But before she even leaves, she misses a conference that meant everything to her because she is so busy doing minor things for her family (husband Charles and college aged children Eric and Anika) that she ends up being too late to be admitted to the event. Her upset and unhappiness about this and what it says about her life, as this is not the first time her family has unthinkingly derailed or minimized something that means a lot to her, follow her to her birthday celebration. Her friends notice but they are still shocked when Aja says she's not going home with them but staying on longer to get herself straight in her head. After thinking and considering advice from everyone she meets, Aja knows what she needs and wants to do with her life. The question is whether she can follow through when she gets home, especially after a huge life altering event threatens to completely upend everything she's got in process.

This novel was frustrating from the get-go. Aja is a complete and total doormat and even though she knows it and one of her friends has repeatedly told her that she's made her family the way they are (demanding and unthinking), she continues to allow them to treat her poorly and without considering her own thoughts and feelings. She never advocates with herself outside of her own head. Her husband Charles is described as a shining and perfect man she's lucky to have but he's oblivious and selfish at every turn. And don't get me started on her self-centered, whining adult children! I wanted to thunk every last character here over the head for something, and that's not a good thing. Perhaps there are women out there who really are this self-effacing, enabling, and generally paralyzed but it is beyond frustrating to read and it was hard to even hope that Aja grew a backbone because she wallowed in her assumed role, bemoaning and woe-is-me-ing. There is a lot of repetition here, very obvious foreshadowing, and the secondary characters weren't terribly well fleshed out.  The outward perfection of Aja's life is noted over and over again.  It is clearly mentioned to prove a point about the difference between perception and reality but, honestly, it got old.  The narrative is told in the first person so the reader spends the majority of the book inside Aja's head and seeing her inability to break out of the ruts she's entrenched herself in, which was painful. So much about Aja should have inspired sympathy in me but it just didn't and I couldn't ever get beyond my frustration to enjoy the book. Maybe I'm too unlike her. And in my book, that's not a bad thing.

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

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