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The Season of Second Chances

May 16, 2010

It’s occurred to me that in the year I’ve been writing this blog  I’ve never reviewed a book that I truly didn’t like.  I’ll often say things like “it wasn’t my favorite, but I’m glad I read it,” because I can usually find some elements of the book that I actually did like or that were interesting to me.  So we’re taking on new territory here because I really didn’t like The Season of Second Chances by Diane Meier.   I almost don’t want to say that I didn’t like this book because in the back of my mind I’m afraid that Meier is going to read this review and be hurt (which I know is ridiculous but I still think it).  I know she worked long and hard on this book and she’s incredibly proud of it I’m sure so it makes me feel bad to vocalize that it didn’t appeal to me.  But the point of this blog, I guess, is that I should honestly review books and it would do no one any good if I just said that I loved every book so as to not upset anyone.

With that said, I didn’t particularly care for The Season of Second Chances and I will do my best to explain to you why.

The novel focuses on Joy Harkness, a literature professor at Columbia who at 48, uncharacteristically takes a job in Amherst, MA and buys an old fixer-upper.  In the process she meets new people, makes friends, dates a bit, works on her old house with the help of a handyman named Teddy and learns what its like to be herself and really participate in life. I thought that premise of a college professor taking on the challenge of fixing up an old house would be interesting.  I would love to be a literature professor and having a big ol’ house to fix up with infinite amounts of money could be rather fun too.

But the story was just so fluffy.  I felt like I was watching a Lifetime original movie. In one scene, Joy is unexpectedly taking care of a friend’s kids and the narrative reads, “The girls arrived before nine, all giggles and big eyes.  Josie, brilliant Josie, had packed their favorite peanut butter, sour cherry jam, white bread and a box of chocolate wafer cookies – which, they hinted – was planned for a great surprise.”  I felt like the novel didn’t have any depth.  The characters were cookie cutter and the storylines were standard.  The terrible mother is ridiculously unbelievable, Joy is absurdly unrealistic and the story of women friendships is cliche.  Nothing is left for the reader to figure out – Meier details everything so clearly that there are no surprises, underlying themes or subtle references.   There is also this dog that is the biggest, silliest hit-me-over-the-head metaphor ever.

But overpowering the fluffiness and overall cheesiness of the story, I was actually offended by some of the themes.  Joy leaves scary NYC where she is a unfriendly and unlikable woman to become a “real” loving person in the comforts of small town America.  Joy’s house is finally a “home” and her and Teddy are a “real couple” when they work together to babysit and the house is overrun with children.  Teddy needs to go back to school because he couldn’t possibly be happy being *just* a handyman.

The one positive about this book was that the ending wasn’t all sunshine and roses as I’d expected.  I thought for sure we’d all learn that life is complete when college-educated, married with kids but I was glad to see that Meier didn’t tie things up quite so neatly (I mean, there is a big bow on the ending, but not quite as big as the bow on the Lexus commercials at Christmas).  The Season of Second Chances obviously wasn’t for me, but I do think there is a large audience out there who would love this book.  The average Goodreads rating is 3.5 out of 5, so there are definitely some women out there who really love Joy and can relate to this story.

So this was my first review of a book that I didn’t like.  How did I do?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 16, 2010 11:07 am

    You did great! Congratulations! Do you feel empowered? 🙂

  2. May 17, 2010 7:54 pm

    To me, the key to writing a fair negative review is that you give specific reasons why you didn’t like it. Which I think you did admirably. I was interested in the premise of the book until I read the quote you included which gave me a bit of a tummy ache. Based on what you have written here, it seems to me that you might like some Marge Piercy. Have you read any of her books? I’ve read Fly Away Home, Three Women, and The Third Child and liked them all.

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