In case you’re thinking of reading a superficial novel about Hollywood, this is not it! When I first started reading the novel, I didn’t like some of the characters. They seemed like self-involved and shallow Hollywood types. But then Maria Semple surprises you, and all of her characters become real people who just happen to live in Los Angeles.
The main character is Violet Parry, who is married to David Parry, an extremely successful rock band manager. Violet and David have a beautiful little daughter, Dot, are very rich, and have a glamorous lifestyle that most people would envy.
But Violet is desperately unhappy. She seems to be suffering from a prolonged post-partum depression, and her mansion has become a gilded cage. Her husband has become increasingly frustrated with her depression and has become quite angry with her. He doesn’t listen to her or ask for her opinions, and never asks her how she really feels. Her opinions seem worthless to him. He seems to be deliberately cruel.
It’s very upsetting to Violet, because they had a very close marriage for a long time. Violet gained a quite a bit of weight during her pregnancy, and has been unable to shed the weight since her baby was born, thus exacerbating her depression. She is ripe for the attentions of another man.
His name is Teddy Reyes, and he is a small-time bass player. I’ll admit that I never cared for Teddy, who spews racist remarks and seems to be incapable of telling the truth or being faithful to those who love him. He is the exact opposite of David, who is extremely responsible and loyal to his family.
Violet is immediately attracted to Teddy, probably because he actually listens to her. Violet may also be attracted to the bad-boy side of Teddy, because he has long-standing drug and alcohol addictions. He was more interested in shooting up than in his career, and is now penniless. Violet knows instantly that she wants to have an affair, and fantasizes about the life they will have together. It never occurs to her that Teddy may not be as smitten with her as he is with drugs. However, there is a strong physical attraction between them.
The other major character is David’s sister, Sally, who at first seems to be a rather trashy. She sets her sights on Jeremy, a man who looks like a sure bet for sportscasting stardom. She seduces him within moments of meeting him. She manages to get him to the altar, but then makes a series of huge errors to make her life very complicated. Sally is a diabetic former ballerina, and while it seems that she is trying to marry a soon-to-be rich man for his money, I suspect that Sally really feels unloved and insecure, and just wants someone to love her.
Violet’s affair with Teddy has huge ramifications for all of the other characters, in ways that she could never have foreseen. David finds out about the affair, and the surprising way he handles the situation was a turning point in the book (at least for me).
This book has characters suffering from various ailments (diabetes, Asperger Syndrome, Hepatitis C, drug addiction), all of which are not mere plot devices, but crucial to the development of the story. All of these are very serious diseases, but the book’s dark comic undertone sets the plot racing along, especially in the last few chapters, where the pace seems to really pick up to a satisfying finish.
I don’t want to give away the entire plot of the book because I want you to enjoy reading it yourself!
Here is a video of Maria Semple reading excerpts from the novel: