Book Review: Three Stages of Amazement

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Our ModernMom Book Club is a way for our readers to express their thoughts and ideas on things they’ve read, sharing their insights with our community of moms. Join the conversation, and tell us what you thought about this book in the comment section below! 

I don’t know about you, but I’m an avid reader of book reviews. Whether it’s the New York Times or O magazine, I’m always reading summaries of new books, writing them down on post it notes and leaving them all over the house so I remember to reserve a copy at my local library. (I used to buy more books and I love supporting other writers. But when my tax accountant saw my outrageous annual book buying bills and compared it to my total income, he suggested kindly that I might want to borrow a few from the library instead.)

Anyway, when I heard about Three Stages of Amazement by Carol Edgarian, I couldn’t wait to read it. My appetite for books on motherhood, parenting and marriage seems to be insatiable. The reviews for this book were great and the story line sounded captivating: “about the fragility of a marriage and the tenuous state of the American Dream.”

There’s more on the book jacket: “Charlie Pepper and Lena Rusch live in San Francisco in a modest pink bungalow they cannot afford…Charlie and Lena grew up believing they could have it all – sex, love, marriage, children, career, brilliance. Now, in early middle age, life has delivered surprises and tests – a stillborn twin, an economic crash, a relentless rival in Charlie’s business and a seductive lover from Lena’s past.”

You want to read it, right? I wanted to read it. I wanted to like it. I really did. But the author never hooked me and I didn’t care much about the characters ((until the very, very end). Part of the problem was that the point of view kept shifting – there were chapters written from the point of view of their 5-year-old child and another from the ex-lover. It was distracting and seemed unfocused.

Also, she writes about Obama when he’s still in office and about the economic recession and she even mentions Adele! I mean, she must have published this pretty fast. How is it possible to get a deal, write a novel and get published within 3 years? That seems remarkable. But it does make the book very current and it did feel as though I was reading about something that could have happened to my neighbors. So that was cool. Mystifying, but cool.

All in all –  I won’t be recommending this book or singing its praises from the roof top. But there are some redeeming parts and some beautiful passages about marriage and motherhood. Like this one:

“Even after the wedding they still believed that marriage was a flexible, romantic sort of agreement, which they would shape and polish over time. It was not. Marriage was a stone on which far tougher than the likes of Charlie and Lena had been shaped and polished unto vapor and salt.”

I loved the part when Lena’s mom offers to take the kids for the weekend so she can get away with her husband for some much-needed R&R and it all goes wrong. I loved the ending and the very real and painful conversations Lena had with her mother and her dying father about love and loss and family.

And in the end, I loved Lena, an overwhelmed stay-at-home mom with serious marital problems, an overly precocious son and a baby girl who is frequently in and out of the hospital with serious health issues. At heart, she is all of us – constantly questioning her choices when it comes to spouse, career and family and because of her insecurities, making many mistakes along the way.

I won’t give away the ending, in case any of you end up reading this book. It’s almost worth the effort of getting there. Almost.

Next Month’s Book: The Hand That First Held Mine

Cori Howard is the editor of Between Interruptions: Thirty Women Tell the Truth about Motherhood, an anthology of personal essays on the transformative process of becoming mothers. In her book, you can read honest and emotional accounts of how having children has affected our marriages, our careers, our friendships, our identities and our deepest selves. She’s also the founder of The Momoir Project, an online writing centre. The Momoir Project connects mothers from around the world and teaches them how to write their own stories – before they forget. Many of her students have said it’s better – and cheaper – than therapy. Check out the Momoir community blog, written by Cori and her students, about the day-to-day struggles of modern motherhood.

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