The Underside of Joy by Sere Prince Halverson
This novel is about two women. Paige is the natural mother of two children and the other is their stepmother Ella, who has brought up the children from an early age. The children’s father dies very suddenly and there emerges a confrontation between the two women, as Paige wants to reclaim the custody of her children. The story is set in rural north California, and covers such diverse topics as post natal depression, war time internment and a custody battle. The story is full of joy and sadness.
It was my privilege to review this book before it was published, as I was given an un-proofed copy to read. At first glance I thought that the cover and the colour denoted a girly, romancy read but it certainly proved not to be the case. It is romantic, but it is so much more. The story is full of raw emotion and by page twenty four I was in floods of tears. The grief of the two children, on the death of their father was portrayed with honesty, anger and tenderness not often encountered. The language is very poetic at times, and to compare a fawn’s legs to the stem of a fragile wine glass stem is beautifully evocative and original. The story moved on at a good pace but some of the sentences were too long and convoluted to understand on a first reading. (E.g. bottom of page 214, a five line sentence which could be structured differently.) The issues which were touched on, like post-natal depression, and war time internment were well researched and handled, and the warmth that rolled off of the large extended Italian family was positive stereotyping at its very best. It gave the story depth and background. The relationship between a natural mother and a stepmother is always a difficult balance but this story goes from no contact and hostility, to co-operative parenting and understanding without a false note. Zack’s, the youngest child’s accident, and the joint responsibility and guilt that follow construct an excellent culmination to the story and the catalyst to a very satisfying ending to the story. I will wait eagerly for the next one.