🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 Five glittery stars to talented Gen-X writer Joanna Monahan and her debut novel, Something Better! This book will be published by Blue Ink Press in Summer 2023. I was fortunate to receive an ARC copy!
Find “Something Better” on Goodreads here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/62990464-something-better
An Emotional Debut – Author Joanna Monahan put her heart and soul into her first novel, “Something Better.” In a story about love, memories, and struggling to rediscover who you are, main character Corinne Fuller faces a stale marriage and an impending empty nest. Daily life consists of routine errands, cleaning, cooking, caring for family, and PTA meetings – each event framed by Corinne-as-narrator as she attempts to turn the mundane into “something better.” Right away, I was put in mind of James Thurber’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”
Further complicating things is her belief that had she traveled a different path after high school, her present might be more exciting, more rewarding. Her thoughts often wander to the high school sweetheart who broke her heart after graduation. Not ever fully recovering, Corinne wonders about Nick. Is he happy? Does he ever think about her? And his choices leading up to and after the breakup…why?
The not knowing is all-consuming, so when her 25-year high school graduation comes around, Corinne lets her best friend Beth convince her to travel back home. Will Nick be there? What will she say to him? The scenarios play out in her head, her “inner narrator” working overtime.
It’s clear to this reader that Corinne is terribly unhappy regardless of the ho-hum marriage and her melancholy over her daughter’s eventual move to college. Her visions of Nick, what could have been and what still might be, reveal a deep longing. But I submit that her longing is mostly for happiness. Nick just happens to be the convenient emotional memory that she can massage into what she believes would make her happier.
Of course, she does see Nick when she attends the reunion – readers expect this. He’s a difficult character to “get” at first blush, but you can understand the attraction. He’s unpredictable, confident. And early on, readers observe his power over Corinne. Clearly, Nick is her Pied Piper. As the story unfolds, these former teenage artists – she a photographer, he a writer – reconnect while Corinne picks up the camera again. But an uneasiness permeates this relationship. Something isn’t quite right. An unrelated earth-shattering event brings everything to a head, and Corinne finds herself fighting to regain her old life.
I found the beginning of “Something Better” lighthearted – who hasn’t thought about a high school sweetheart and maybe fantasized a bit? I believe many coming-to-midlifers will identify with Corinne and this phase of life. The novel explores deeper themes, however. At one point, I wondered if this was a cautionary tale: Do not lose yourself when you are taking care of others. When they are gone, or even worse, no longer have the same feelings for you, YOU are all you have left. So, you better invest in yourself and your individual happiness, too.
I felt great sympathy for Corinne. There were points in the second half of the book and toward the end when I wanted to shake her and shout: Don’t let them be so mean to you! Life is complicated, and no one does everything right. Yes, sometimes “tough love” is helpful, but she deserved to catch a break – more importantly (to me) she deserved to give herself a break. Thankfully friends Grace and Sheila brought not only compassion but real perspective. No one is perfect.
“Something Better” is an emotional read, and it will resonate, I believe, with many readers who find themselves at a similar point in life – in particular, married women with children on the cusp of leaving home. Joanna Monahan has been called a “writer with a Gen-X flair,” and this is certainly true! But her writing also explores the complexities of multiple relationships and the shadowy intersection of memory and desire.
Five stars to “Something Better” and Joanna Monahan on her debut novel! The writing flows effortlessly, and the storyline will surprise you as the pages turn.
(Thank you to the author and her publisher for an advance reader copy in exchange for an honest review.)