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Thursday, March 13, 2008

A Perfect Arrangement by Suzanne Berne

I read this book because Suzanne Berne wrote it. She also wrote The Ghost At The Table, which I liked. I'm far more ambivalent about A Perfect Arrangement... enough so that I'm not sure I'll read more of Berne.

As this story opens, Mirella and Howard are married, have two children (one of each), she's a lawyer, he's an architect working from home, and their lives, while certainly chaotic and often a mess to figure out (who can manage the time off work for a sick child or a school meeting, etc), are bearable. Neither of them seems to have the time or inclination to sit down and figure out what they can do to straighten out the haphazard way their family manages.

Enter Randi Gill. Since Mirella and Howard's au pair girl just quit, they begin interviewing new prospects from an agency. Randi is young, but bright and seems capable enough. She and the younger child, Jacob, seem to take to each other immediately. Jacob has some sort of mental problem that's in the process of being diagnosed, but Randi manages to get through to him when neither of his parents can. Before long, Randi has taken over the cooking and cleaning and child care. While restoring order to the household is nice, neither Mirella nor Howard are really comfortable with how their lives have changed. Mirella wants her career but she doesn't want to give up the idea of herself as a capable, loving, attentive mother to her children even though there's plenty of occasions when she simply doesn't have the time to take care of everything. Howard becomes involved in designing a new development for the town in which they live, so he also becomes pressured for time.

The story moves along at a slow pace. Revelations are made slowly about Randi, Mirella, and Howard, and while in another book these revelations might have been interesting leading to various scenarios and choices for the characters to make, Berne doesn't seem to know what to do with the people she's got floundering around in her plot.

As a result, I finished this book with one clear thought in mind: Live Goes On. The thing is, I already knew that. For better or for worse, this too shall pass, and life, as each of us knows it, moves beyond the daily calamities or next big catastrophe. We either roll with the punches or we stagnate. This is not rocket science. It also doesn't make for a very interesting book.

I do appreciate Berne's writing skills, but in this case that wasn't enough to keep me engaged for a whole book full of platitudes and humdrum existence.


MissDaisyAnne said...

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