This is an aimiable book about an aimiable person. Perhaps too aimiable. We first meet Willa in 1967 at age 11. Her younger sister Elaine is 6. Their volcanically tempered mother has just done a flit so their mild-mannered father looks after them as best he can.
Then we cut to 1977 when Willa brings her college boyfriend Derek home for a visit. Derek believes he can talk Willa into getting married earlier rather than later. After all, she can transfer her studies to a Californian uni when they move there, right? Willa is aghast. She had been looking forward to degrees studies in linguistic anthropology.
Then we leap further into the future, as Willa and Derek drive to his company’s do. Ever an irascible driver, Derek gets too aggressive for his own good. Their teenage sons are already remote from their mother. Well, it goes with the territory.
Next we find Willa married to Peter, a mostly retired lawyer, and living in Arizona so Peter can play golf. She gets a bizarre phone call. It’s from the neighbour of a former girlfriend (Denise) of her older son Sean. Denise has been shot in the leg. The neighbour has been looking after Denise’s daughter Cheryl, but has to go to work. Can Willa come to Baltimore and help? Feeling that she has nothing better to do, Willa agrees. So begins the best part of the book, as Willa meets not only Denise and Cheryl but their many quirky and interesting neighbours. Peter soon goes back home to Arizona, miffed that Willa won’t go with him, but for the first time in a long while, Willa feels wanted, needed and loved, especially by the remarkable Cheryl - a plump little girl with incredible self-possession and aplomb who likes to bake. She’s a terrific character.
Willa finds herself making excuses on the phone to Peter as to why she can’t come home yet. He gets sulky about it. The big question for Willa is whether she gives in to the emotional blackmail and forsake her own needs yet again or whether she finally goes after what she really wants. Two other characters remind her not to get her rocks off by being a martyr. Beautifully done. Gentle and keenly observed.
A fairly boring story of an insipid woman who is never able to stand up for herself in life. She sneaks and manipulates her life into something she probably wants but you’re left with a sense that she won’t learn from her past of being a doormat to be any different in her future. Not a lot to like about this book or be inspired by.