Well, I’ve had a night to think about it, and I’m pretty sure I finally know where I stand with this book.
I didn’t like it.
It’s difficult, because it actually gets much better around the halfway point, but there’s always something off-putting lingering in the background. Let me start with the basics.
Grace Chapman, wife of literary icon Ted Chapman, has spent most of her life placating the volatile emotions of those around her. As a child, she walked on eggshells, never knowing what side of her bipolar mother she was going to get. As an adult, she has learned to make herself scarce when her husband gets in one of his moods. Despite her absolute terror at her husband’s mood swings, Grace feels that her life is almost perfect. Things change, however, when Ted’s efficient assistant is forced to quit to deal with problems in her own family. Suddenly Grace must deal with Ted’s unrealistic demands, she must organize their household and take on tasks she hasn’t had to deal with in decades. Grace is drowning, so when a young woman appears out of nowhere offering to help, she hires her without much of a thought.
Beth is perfect. Too perfect, some might say. In a matter of days, she has whipped the household into shape. Ted’s the happiest he’s ever been, and somehow, Beth has also had time to clean and organize the entire house AND help with Grace’s charity work. But then strange things start happening. The rentals for a high-end charity event never arrive, leaving the guests disgruntled and Grace embarrassed. A favorite scarf of Grace’s disappears, only to be seen on Beth a few days later. She’s crazy, Ted says, to think anything might be off, especially when their lives are so great. She should be seen by a psychiatrist.
Grace has lived her whole life in fear of becoming her mother, so the suggestion to see a psychiatrist, to become one of those overly-medicated women she’s always vowed not to be, hits her the wrong way. But Dr. Ellery is so understanding. He makes her feel validated and comfortable. So when he suggests that she try this pill, and that pill, and another four pills to combat the side effects of the other two, she agrees. After all, doctors know best, right? Soon, Grace is a shell of her former self and has no idea how to get back to what she once was.
So, overall, the premise is pretty good. It’s actually a bit terrifying, thinking that something like this could happen. So my issue is (mainly) not with the plot, although it could have used an editor to clean it up a bit. My main problem is with the writing.
First, let me start off by saying that the whole writing style is odd. Because Grace is a well-known chef, the author has, for some reason, found it necessary to include a recipe at the end of every chapter. The writing is also very distant, detached, almost like you’re watching one of those Discovery Channel documentaries where the British guy is narrating while a lion devours an unsuspecting antelope. Grace hides in the bathroom as Ted rages downstairs. Here’s a recipe for buttery kedgeree. Grace’s mother often called her ugly and useless. Here’s a recipe for salmon. Beth is surely convincing Ted that Grace is crazy, but Grace isn’t crazy, right? Here’s a recipe for ginger ice cream.
Also, several threads of the plot are started, only to be discarded later. I wanted to know what was going on with Dr. Ellery, how he got away with medicating Grace into a stupor. I wanted to know why Beth targeted Grace’s family. I wanted some justice for Grace at the end, for something to happen to Ted, or to Beth, or both. But the whole book was just flat.
The plot is highly predictable. I could have told you something was off when Grace was looking to check references for Beth and Beth couldn’t provide a current phone number. References by email? Really? And if, for whatever reason, Grace was really that naive and trusting, she had to have known that the charity debacle was all Beth’s fault. But, instead of trying to figure out why all these terrible things have suddenly started to happen after letting Beth into her life, Grace is more focused on the weight she’s gained due to her new medications.
I knew going into this book that it didn’t have great reviews, but I also knew that Jane Green is well-known in the chick lit world, so I gave it a chance. All in all, I’m pretty disappointed. I wanted to like this book, but I just couldn’t.
Thanks to the publisher and Goodreads First Reads for the free copy.
Final rating: ★★☆☆☆