You Made Me Love You

by Joanna Goodman

Published by Penguin Canada

391 pages, 2005


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Balancing Act

Reviewed by Cherie Thiessen

 

Three sisters feature in this engrossing novel that smacks of real life. Equally center stage is the quintessential Jewish mama, Lilly, and her spoiled husband, Milton. Lilly's mother, Dorothy, Milton's long time lover, Gladys, and of course the men in the sisters' lives all revolve, evolve and unfold in a dizzying dance that compels you to take part.

Each chapter is a continuation of each of the sister's ongoing stories, with a few of Lilly and Milton's thrown in for good measure. Thus, exposed to multiple points of view and various takes on the same subjects, the reader is well informed and in complete control, the pivot around which the characters all rotate.

At 37, Estelle is the eldest daughter. Now living in L.A., she knows exactly what she wants: an editing career in film, and she's working hard to get it. She's certain that if she keeps at it she will be able to direct her own films, and she probably will. Driven, talented and in love with L.A. and her work, she just wishes that she could meet a mate and get her family off her back. Losing a few pounds wouldn't hurt either.

Jessie is coming up 30. With two children, a husband in medicine who has written a bestselling diet book and a successful business of her own, you might think she has her life in balance, but she doesn't like her husband very much and neither do we, and her neurosis is bordering on the psychotic. With parental approval in mind she married early to a prize catch, had the required number of children quickly and stayed in her home town. What's she doing to do now?

Erica is the youngest. She ricochets from one life plan to another, never really sure what she wants. Well, she knows what she wants, really (something creative that she can feel passionate about) but she's not sure what packaging to put those feelings into. Currently she is living in New York, being supported and mentored by a successful 46-year old writer, Paul, who embodies her current goal: to be a successful creative writer. She's not doing much of anything with her life other than feeling unhappy and unsettled, as usual.

Estelle finds a mate who adores her and then must make a major decision. Jessie gets unhinged by a brief affair, with serious consequences to her marriage. Erica's monumental indecision is finally taken out of her hands and she must choose between a man who doesn't want to be a father and one who will have her regardless, apparently. In spite of herself.

It's really only in the character of Erica that the story flounders a little for me. She's just too pathetic. It simply isn't credible that she would ever attract a guy who is completely together. It would be an easy thing to make right in the novel, just let the reader see some redeeming qualities or strengths in poor, teetering Erica.

The family dynamics Goodman portrays will be familiar to almost every woman. The controlling mother who has given up one kind of life (career) for another (living for her children and family), the maternal manipulation that comes along with that: the compromises, the sibling rivalry, the feeling that others are valued more than you in the family and the guilty desire to be free of it all. Goodman has captured all of this so well, most female readers will identify strongly with at least some aspects of the story.

Goodman's second novel is a triumph. It left me looking forward to her next. | August 2005

 

Cherie Thiessen has been a scriptwriter, playwright, creative writing instructor and -- for the past 10 years -- a travel writer and book reviewer. She was the review columnist for Focus on Women Magazine for eight years and has also written numerous reviews for magazines including Monday Magazine, Pacific Yachting, Cottage Magazine, The Driftwood News, Linnear Reflections and Douglas College's Event Magazine.