Happiness Sold Separately by Lolly Winston
Women's Fiction, 304 pages
2006, Warner Books
Lolly Winston's second novel tackles two of marriage's most difficult scenarios: infertility and infidelity.
Elinor Mackey is trying to cope with being forty (as if that isn't hard enough!) and the tail end of a two-year infertility battle (as if that isn't hard enough!) when she catches her husband with his hands in the whore-cookie jar. The opening chapter is almost humorous in the way she handles the discovery. Elinor goes through the typical reactions later: anger, guilt, sadness, insanity, revenge, and finally, acceptance.
The events that follow do seem a bit contrived at first. We see her husband Ted's side of the story, but never have a good reason to justify his adultery (because, duh! that kind of behavior is unacceptable), so the story is quite believable. Even though you find yourself screaming at the pages, hoping the characters will somehow hear your pleas ("Don't do that!", "No! That will just make things worse!", "Didn't I just tell you not to do that?"), you never get the feeling that these events weren't probable…and you never get the feeling that you want to stop reading.
Winston does an excellent job of getting the reader to turn pages, taking seemingly mundane activities (such as washing laundry, reading under a tree, cleaning the bathroom) and creating entertaining scenes. Witty dialogue permeates the dark areas of the story without lightening them too much, which would take away from the weight of the issues. Here's one of my favorite exchanges:
"You can clean up the dust bunnies and coffee rings, but you can't sweep away the unhappiness?"
"Well, maybe you could invent a product. Cuts grease and malaise!"
"Bleach away your husband's lover!"
Ouch. Roger can't think of anything funny to say.
Elinor's dark sense of humor is apparent in both her dialogue and the narrative, which I think many women today can connect with, whether or not they've personally experienced her situation. Her neighbor, Kat (ironically, a happily married mother of three), is an excellent supporting character. Just the right balance of whimsy and spunk. Gina-the-whore didn't garner any sympathy from me, despite obvious attempts to do so through her point-of-view scenes and the introduction of her son (from a previous relationship) as an emotional tug at Ted's heartstrings. She has "stay away from me, I'm bad news" written all over her character, almost to the point of stereotyping.
Certain scenes in other character's viewpoints (Roger & Gina), weren't completely relevant until the end, making for a few frustrating moments, but I'd suggest reading the whole novel before settling on an opinion. This is, essentially, Elinor and Ted's story, however, the climax (a comical culmination of seemingly unrelated events all gathered together by a desperate ten year old boy) wouldn't have worked without the other point-of-view scenes. When I reached the last page, I was disappointed that it was over, in a good way.
Winston's writing is clean, easy to read, and moves along at a pleasant pace. The cover had attracted my initial attention at the bookstore, the blurb on the inside flap got me to buy it, and the story within confirmed I'd made a good purchase. Highly recommended, especially for women.