Monday, December 08, 2008

Holiday Gift Guide: This One Is Mine: A Novel by Maria Semple

It’s possible to know too much about an author before you read the book. For example, while reading This One Is Mine (Little, Brown and Company) I kept thinking it was very filmic and that, for various perfectly good reasons, it would probably make a terrific movie. And, of course, I knew going in that, not only is the book set in the glitzy glam world of west side L.A., this is the debut novel of a former sitcom writer.

Maria Semple has worked on many hit television shows, including Mad About You, Ellen and Arrested Development. So she knows about funny and she knows about story and she knows about the place where those things fit together. Enter This One is Mine’s Violet Perry, a rock ‘n’ roll wife with a perfect toddler, perfect home, perfect life. She’s also perfectly miserable, but that’s not so bad, because she’s fairly close to the time when she’ll find the perfect affair. In fact, we’re there when it happens.

I predict two things about This One Is Mine: considering the subject matter, the location and the core themes of the book, it’s possible that Semple’s debut novel will not find this author a huge following. Considering the journey the United States has been on during the last 12 months, This One Is Mine seems slightly out of touch. In a time when people are losing their jobs and overwhelmed by the reality of their shrinking 401Ks, many of Violet’s concerns seem petty. Understand, though, this is no reflection at all on the author and her touch on reality. Lead times being what they are, when Semple handed this book off to her editor, there was no recession rapidly deepening into Depression. There was no Obamamania. And it’s even possible that “subprime” was still a word only ever used at the butcher’s.

In short, then: This One Is Mine doesn’t really work, but the writing? The writing really, really does. Semple carts us away to her world: and it’s a place a lot of people really love to go. Even so, I’m betting that this author will make her mark with the book she’s working on now.

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