Friday, April 5, 2019

Book Review: Everything is Just Fine

By Jami Deise

When my son Alex was growing up, our life was ruled by his sports schedules. Baseball in particular became so important that I wrote a book about it, Keeping Score. (Reviewed here.) Even though Alex is 25 now and his only sport is moot court, I’m still drawn to stories about crazy sports parents and their amusing shenanigans.

I read Brett Paesel’s novel, Everything is Just Fine, about parents and their 10-year-old sons playing on a soccer league in Beverly Hills, expecting the same kind of LOL experience. Rich, entitled parents are the worst kinds to stand on the sidelines with, as the recent college cheating scandal demonstrates. (How could you, Aunt Becky? Lynette? We thought you were one of us!) And the best kinds to laugh at. But in Everything is Just Fine, nothing is fine at all. And the book had me tear up much more often than laugh.

Coach Randy pretends his life is great, but he’s mortgaged his future to pay for a lifestyle he can’t afford. His wife Missy is desperately unhappy. Divorced moms Diane and Karen deal with grief and anger over their ex-husbands’ new lives and wives. Team mom Jacqui is in denial about her son’s medical needs. And the other boys on the team aren’t doing that well, either.

Why do people who have everything still act like it’s not enough?

Everything is Just Fine starts a little silly, with rah-rah emails from Coach Randy and other parents. (In fact, the entire first chapter is just emails.) It wasn’t until I was about a quarter of the way in that I realized that underneath Paesel’s breezy narrative voice was a heart of darkness. In that way, it reminded me of Felicity Huffman’s old series, Desperate Housewives. (And while I don’t think Lynette would have bribed a college coach to get her kids into USC, I do think Bree, Carlos, Katherine, and Paul would have resorted to such measures.)

A few problems I found: There are multiple points of view, and occasionally Paesel hops from one head to another without warning. More broadly, the league treats these 10-year-olds like they are six, with rules about playing time, substitution, sportsmanship, and non-competitive games appropriate for little children who’d never played sports before. With Beverly Hills being so competitive, I’d expect most 10-year-olds to be in select travel programs rather than leagues that don’t keep score for the first several games of the season.

Still, I’d recommend the book to anyone who enjoys tales of suburban angst. Sometimes everything really is just fine, and it’s nice to have a reminder that even if you don’t have the biggest house on the block or your kid isn’t the best soccer player in town, what you do have is pretty great. Every character in this book would have been so much better off had they just appreciated what they had. We can all learn from their mistakes.

Thanks to Grand Central Publishing for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Brett Paesel:

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