Wednesday, May 16, 2007

We Are All Fine Here by Mary Guterson

We Are All Fine Here by Mary Guterson
Copyright 2005
Berkeley Signature
Fiction - 201 pages

I spy around for Ray and locate him in the kitchen, chatting up some woman I've never seen before. The woman is laughing hard enough to give everyone within fifty yards a tour down her pink, waxy throat. Ray catches me glancing at him and does a quick double raise of his eyebrows, as thought I should understand what that means. That was always the problem with our secret language. Neither one of us ever knew what the other was talking about.

Mothering is everything it's cracked up to be, which is to say, a complete and total nightmare. Anyone who tells you differently is not to be trusted.

Under no circumstances should the new father show up at the hospital looking tired and stressed and wanting comfort from the new mother. Under no circumstances should the new father expect to still be able to attend a Sonics basketball game with his buddies the very next evening because, as he tells the new mother, he might not be able to get out with his buddies for a while.

I know a woman whose husband died and left her alone to raise their three-year-old son in their tastefully furnished home, along with two cars, a condo at Sun Valley, and an insurance policy to keep her in fat city for the rest of her life. Isn't that really every woman's fantasy? That her husband would die and leave her everything and she wouldn't have to go through a messy divorce and also wouldn't have to live with him forever and put up with doing his laundry and dealing with his parents, and cooking things with no dairy products for every meal because he's goddamn lactose-intolerant?

It's been a couple of days since I read We Are All Fine Here and I blew through it in one night, so I had to go back and refamiliarize my self with the book, having spent so little time with it. We Are All Fine Here tells the story of Julia, who has never quite gotten over the love of her life, Ray. Julia's been married to Jim for fifteen years. They married hastily when she became pregnant and now their offspring is a teenage boy who causes her plenty of grief. There's no spark between Julia and Jim, anymore, and she's really weary of his excited chatter about a beautiful woman he works with and runs with during his lunch hour.

When Ray nudges her into attending the wedding friends from college, Julia tells her husband she's going shopping. She doesn't anticipate feeling every bit the same as she did many years ago, nor does she plan to have a fling in the bathroom of the newlyweds. When she realizes she's pregnant and doesn't know whether the father of her child is Ray or Jim, Julia has some soul-searching to do.

We Are All Fine Here is a quick read and I enjoyed it, but there's one thing you should know. The reviews at Amazon and elsewhere tend to paint the novel in a lighter shade, often describing it as "funny". It's not really a laugh-out-loud funny book at all; realistically, I have to say it's a little on the sad side and raw in the way of an Elizabeth Berg novel. The difference is in the twist of phrase; Guterson's sentences are often smile-inducing, even when they have to do with her frustrations. Julia is kind of goofy and fun. She's just a little confused about how and why she ended up in a plodding relationship with a man who doesn't thrill her, with a job that amounts to hiding herself away and a teenager who has reached the point that never is about the average length of time he'd like to spend with his mother. I like the way Amy Tan described the novel, in her cover quote, "full of naked truth."

The storyline is fairly common, very much what I would consider a "woman's dilemma" with a lot of soul-searching and questioning, justification and sometimes outright refusal to admit the obvious. In other words, the character felt real to me. In some ways, I could relate to her completely. My husband is such a workaholic, for example, that he repeatedly told me I needed to have that second baby on Saturday, so he wouldn't miss a day of work. I did so (although, actually, the baby made the final decision when to arrive and he just happened to be good at scheduling), and then 10 days after the birth of my second child, my husband left on business. I still have trouble understanding why my husband puts work ahead of family; and, there were passages that had me tearing up a little because I felt like the author understood in a way either nobody else I've met does or, at least, is willing to share. But, I was smiling at the same time.

Since I couldn't put the book down till I finished, I'm giving it a high rating. The writing is not earth-shattering or beautiful, but it's realistic with a light touch. I loved that. It reminded me of an Elizabeth Berg book in many ways - the rawness and honesty, open sexuality and reflection upon where life has taken her because she's a woman. I'm not sure I'm describing it adequately, so I'm going to plunk a link to Amazon, here:

Coming up: Wahoo! Wednesday. It is Wednesday, right?

I've been tagged for a meme by Gentle Reader and I'll get to that as soon as I can. This might be a high-post day. We'll see.

Did I tell you the husband called from Italy, yesterday? He couldn't get his international calling card to work, so he had his assistant patch him through. It took three attempts before she managed to connect us and then I got to hear all about what a terrific time he's having, how beautiful Florence is and why we need to build a courtyard in our backyard, now that he's stayed at a quaint little hotel with a beautiful courtyard. I told him he'd need to get someone to remove the gigantic poison ivy vines if he wants to create a nice little corner, as he described. He said, I kid you not, "No, no, on the other side of the yard."


  1. I agree with your husband, you SHOULD build a courtyard in the back yard ;) How cool would that be? Did his luggage ever arrive? You should tell him that he owes you a trip to Italy as well one of these days since he seems to be having so much fun!

    By the way, the cover of that book gave me a good laugh.

  2. Ugh, doesn't your husband know by now that even if he is having a wonderful time in Italy and the weather is beautiful and the natives are amazing that he is supposed to tell you that he is miserable and can't wait to come home?

    I feel your pain. My husband is still talking about how wonderful Florida was, even though I was sad and blue the whole time he was gone. Men.

  3. Chris,

    The trouble is that I'd end up doing all the freakin' maintenance (weeding and trimming and planting, etc.) on a courtyard. It's a great idea, but . . . .

    His luggage did arrive. And oh, yeah, he owes me big time.

    That cover is great, isn't it? I almost didn't get a copy, but then I looked at my stack and thought, "Wait! I don't see that cool cover with the gal pouring tea all over the table," and went back for it. It's a grabber.


    The only problem with that concept is that my husband is incredibly transparent. He used to try to convince me that he was having a terrible time wherever he went. And, then, of course he'd pull out the wine from his visit to a winery or accidentally let it drop that he had a fabulous meal with the other guys "and their wives" (wrong thing to say when you've left yours home), so I don't let him get far if he starts to complain. I know better. :)

    Thanks for empathizing. I actually have had trouble with bursting into tears, all week, and not being able to sleep. I was all weepy, this morning, so I decided to lie down and hope it would pass. I woke up at 1pm. Oops. Yeah. Men.

  4. That's why you write up a contract stating that if he would like a courtyard, then "said husband will do all of said weeding, trimming and planting." *grin*

  5. Anonymous2:38 PM

    I love that book cover. I would imagine that would be me if my husband was calling me from Italy! ha,ha... Hope your husband is back home soon. That is really unfair that you didn't get to tag along.

  6. LOLLL, I love your husband stories. What a great response to your poison ivy comment. Gotta love men. They're so clueless sometimes.

  7. Poor Bookfool. I know what you are going through. When my hubby was in Florida I didn't feel like eating and I couldn't sleep and I cryed at the drop of a hat (especially after getting off the phone with him).

    The good news was that I lost 6 pounds that week (gained it all back when he returned).

  8. Anonymous3:36 PM

    Of course the "other" side for the courtyard! Aren't they cute? It's why we don't kill them all. Well, that and all the pressure and laws and whatnot.

    The book sounds pretty good. I think I'll pick it up for the BFF.

  9. Chris,

    I'd have to stipulate that he must also lose a certain amount of weight so he can bend over to weed. Ahem. Getting a little middle-aged, here. We both need work on that. :)


    Isn't that a great cover? Thanks. I agree; totally unfair. Hubby's supposed to be back on Friday, but he has a really short layover in Paris and he's worried that he'll miss his flight home. We'll see!


    I should probably make him the subject of a novel; men can be so nutty. Clueless is right! LOL


    I should be used to it because my husband travels about 80% of the year, but it still upsets me when he goes somewhere terrific without me. I'm the opposite, unfortunately. When he's gone and I'm unhappy, I gain weight. I'm a stress eater. Sucky. I appreciate you sharing that with me; I feel less ridiculous for being such a mess over this trip. Thanks. :)


    It also probably helps that he brings home the income. LOL

    I really, really enjoyed that book; hope your BFF likes it. :)

  10. My first thought was (like Kookie's), boy, your husband doesn't know the rules. Doesn't he know he's supposed to pretend to be miserable without you? Especially if he's in Italy, and you're at home? But then I read your answer. And there's a lot to be said for transparency in a husband :) Fortunately, mine doesn't travel much, and when he does, he actually is miserable--mine's transparent, too, and he can't fake that kind of whining :) Sorry you're teary, hope it clears up soon!

  11. Hey! This is unrelated to your post, but I thought I'd let you know that you've been "tagged" for a Meme on my blog. ;-P

    <>< MIzbooks

  12. Jenn,

    Thank you. I'll bounce right over and peek at the meme. :)

  13. A courtyard would be very nice! LOL

    Your description of the book has me curious. I'll have to add it to my wish list! Thanks, Nancy.

  14. Wendy,

    I'd love a courtyard, just not the work I'd likely be stuck with in addition to all the other yard work and housework I already do mostly on my own!

    Thanks, I hope you like the book. It really resonated with me. :)

  15. What everyone else said about the fantastic book cover.

    I've had this novel title written in the back of my book journal for a couple of years as "a book to look for". Isn't Guterson related to David Guterson, who wrote "Snow Falling On Cedars"? Wife or sister?

    I know how you feel re: your husband, but I'm usually on the other side of that scenario. During phone calls, my husband gets a little huffy when I act too chipper about my adventures in Korea. He prefers me teary-eyed and missing him.

  16. Bybee,

    You should definitely read the book.

    I didn't even think about her last name, but . . . okay, just looked her up. Mary Guterson is David Guterson's sister. And, she thinks it's funny that people often ask her if the book is autobiographical (it's written in first person and very convincing) because she's happily married. She does wonder what that says about what people think of her--the fact that they speculate who the "Ray" of her character's affair is.

    I assume husband couldn't come with you to Korea? All I needed was someone to watch my child and it would have been a done deal. I'm paying for my choice to be a hermit (and not having family within 500 miles). :)

  17. Oh man, I thought I had it bad when my husband calls me from restaurants when he's having lunch/dinner with a friend and tells me what they're ordering. OK, this really only happened twice, but when you're home with two babies, you really don't want to hear about the peach cobbler you can't have. But calling from Italy...I feel your pain.

    Also, very excited to put We Are All Fine Here on my summer reading list. In fact, it shall be book number one.

  18. Camille,

    The funny thing about those phone calls is that he didn't recognize the "Would you just shut up and go away" in my tone. He thought I was perfectly happy to hear from him. Silly man! Yes, it's hard when you have little ones and would just like a day off - just one, not even anywhere fabulous - and you have to hear about the fancy dinners and the fun little side jaunts.

    Oh, good, I hope you like We Are All Fine Here! I couldn't put it down. The way the author made the character unhappy but so likable you couldn't help but root for her was great. I can't wait till her next book is published.


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