Monday, May 12, 2014

Book Review: The Opposite of Maybe

By Jami Deise

“The straw that broke the camel’s back” is an old saying, but a useful one. Like the poem about how, for the want of a nail, the kingdom was lost, it emphasizes how we never notice the little things piling up until it’s too late. The camel’s back is broken, the kingdom is lost. (The saying about the boiling frog, though, is incorrect – it will jump out of the pot.)

For 44-year-old Rosie, though, it isn’t the 15 years of being with a man – Jonathan -- who doesn’t seem interested in marrying her until he gets a job offer across the country. It isn’t his strange obsessions, which include old issues of National Geographic magazines and teacups. It isn’t even when he cancels their impromptu wedding to look at more teacups. No, it’s when he casually refers to people as puppy dogs that can be trained that makes Rosie finally see the selfish, self-centered man at the center of her universe. And instead of jumping into the truck with him for their drive to San Diego, she has Jonathan drop her off at her grandmother Soapie’s house. Soapie, who raised Rosie after her mother died in a freak accident when she was three, is at that age where she needs help but refuses to admit it. But she does have a live-in caretaker – Tony, a landscaper ten years younger than Rosie with a love life even more complicated than hers. Still, Rosie seems ready to put Jonathan behind her – until she discovers she’s unexpectedly pregnant. But with Jonathan on the other side of the country and Tony in the bedroom next door, what’s a woman flush with pregnancy hormones to do?

The Opposite of Maybe, by Maddie Dawson, is solid humorous women’s fiction firmly in the vein of Emily Giffin and Jennifer Weiner. As such, it’s not about the uniqueness of the plot – we’ve read “accidentally pregnant” stories hundreds of times before – but the richness of the characters that draws us in. And Dawson’s characters are rich, indeed. Both Tony and Soapie have complicated back stories that unfold at just the right pace. Jonathan, emotionally more a child than a man, is so irritating that the reader roots for the pregnant Rosie to ditch the father of her child for someone more appropriate. And Rosie herself, while usually passive when it comes to her own life, has no problem giving others astute advice on how to live theirs.

While the characters are absorbing, I found Dawson’s writing style to be a bit off-putting. The story is told in present tense, in third person limited to Rosie’s point-of-view. As such, the reader feels an unnecessary distance from Rosie, and the present tense gives certain actions and events a sense of needless urgency. Most humorous women’s fiction is written in first person, past tense, and perhaps Dawson was deliberately trying to get away from that standard. Still, the genre requires a synergetic connection between reader and protagonist, and I did not get that feeling here.

Dawson delivers enough twists and turns that while the reader hopes for a specific outcome, there is no guarantee. As Jonathan comes around to the idea of being a father, Rosie becomes torn between her growing feelings for Tony and her desire for her baby to grow up in a family. While Tony seems like the right man for Rosie, shouldn’t a woman be with the father of her child? Rosie doesn’t have the answer, and Dawson keeps readers guessing till the very end.

Thanks to Maddie Dawson for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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