The story is engrossing and unexpected. At times it made me uncomfortable. At times it made me sad. At times I just wondered what the heck was the problem with this woman. Why can't she just get on with her life? (You do find out.)
At all times, though, I was struck by the power of Loyd's words. Take, for instance, Celia's recollection of seeing Hope, the proposed sublessee, hugging her son on the street. Celia crossed the street, feeling that she's intruding on a personal moment, as "[Hope] grabbed him abruptly and hugged him with all of her, as if she were trying to steady him against a mean wind or force something out of him. That day, I remember I thought sorrow, she's trying to hug his sorrow away and there was no time to lose apparently." We learn that Hope is going through a divorce after 25 years of marriage. She says of herself, only half jokingly, "Don't you all know that you are supposed to treat me as if I'm newly widowed? As if I've been shipwrecked?"
The Affairs of Others is a debut novel by Loyd, who is herself an editor. (She was the fiction and literary editor at Playboy magazine which, as we all know, is oft purchased for its writing.) It would be interesting to read some of the work that Loyd edited to see if her authors share her lyrical writing style. The Affairs of Others will be available in stores in August.
My copy of the book has zillions of flags marking passages that made me erupt in laughter. There's the memo from the guy hired to run a capital campaign for Galer Street School (where Bea is in the 6th grade) stressing the points he wants to make in bold. He implores the families to "emancipate themselves from what I am calling Subaru Parent mentality and start thinking more like Mercedes Parents.... When applying to kindergarten, Merceds parents keep their eyes on the prize.... The first stop on this crazy train is Kingergarten Junction, and nobody gets off until it pulls into Harvard Station." (In between my snorts of laughter I was congratulating myself on never having had to go through this experience!)
There's Bernadette's email to her virtual assistant bemoaning the overabundance of Craftsman style houses in Seattle. "It's like a hypnotist put everyone from Seattle in a collective trance. You are getting sleepy, when you wake up you will want to live only in a Craftsman house, the year won't matter to you, all that will matter is that the walls will be thick, the windows tiny, the rooms dark, the ceilings low, and it will be poorly situated on a lot." Seattle's love of Chihuly chandeliers garners some contempt from Bernadette as well. "Chihulys are the pigeons of Seattle. They're everywhere, and even if they don't get in your way, you can't help but build up a kind of antipathy toward them." (Naples also is a big Chihuly area, and I have to admit that I don't share the love.) The egalitarian, laid-back nature of Seattle's residents also drives Bernadette crazy. "Nobody here likes me. The day I got here, I went to Macy's to buy a mattress. I asked if someone could help me. 'You're not from around here, are you?' the lady said. 'I can tell by your energy.' What kind of energy was that? That I asked to be helped by a mattress saleslady in a mattress department?" (In case you're wondering, we do find out what the Huge Hideous Event was, and it was enough to drive a person a bit batty.)
Author Maria Semple was a writer for the TV shows Mad About You, Ellen, and Arrested Deelopment, so it's no surprise that she is so darn funny. If you need a good laugh (and who doesn't?), Where'd You Go, Bernadette? is the book for you.