Saturday, October 25, 2008

Sweet Life Just Okay

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Chucking the hustle-bustle of New York City for the gentle pace of island life seems like a no-brainer. So, why is Marissa Price finding life in Hawaii so difficult? Maybe it's because she's traded her high-powered career for the lonely life of a stay-at-home mom. Or perhaps it has to do with her husband Paul who spends his days enjoying his job, cavorting with his gorgeous secretary, and clocking in a lot more hours at the gym than at home. Of course, it could be the leaky, crumbling B&B she now inhabits that is getting her down. Whatever the reason, Marissa is feeling bored, lonely and impatient to get the heck out of paradise.

So begins Mia King's second novel, Sweet Life. By the middle of the book, Marissa is tottering on the brink of divorce, her daughter Pansy's unhappy at school, and the family's finances have taken a significant plunge. Determined to get back to her "real life" in New York, Marissa has to figure out how to make her dilapidated house sellable in a finicky market, while not bankrupting herself in the process. With Paul living in his own apartment, it seems logical to rent out rooms in her spacious house. Soon, Marissa finds herself living with an eclectic group of roommates, women she never would have chosen as friends. It works, somehow. In fact, with their support, she begins renovating her home, going on excursions with a handsome stable owner, and slowly shifting her priorities. By the time Marissa returns to New York for a quick visit, her mind is in turmoil - should she move back to the mainland, plop Pansy back in her sophisticated school, and re-join the ratrace? Or should she stay in Hawaii, where she has friends and peace of mind? Then, of course, there is Paul. Is their marriage worth trying to save? Or has it finally come to its inevitably bitter end? Sweet Life is a story about finding true happiness even in the most miserable of situations. It's about deciding what really makes life sweet.

Although I like the premise of this novel, it fell a little flat for me. For one thing, I found Marissa Price really dislikable. She starts off as snooty, selfish and condescending. By the end of the novel, she's less abrasive, but I still found her obnoxious. I didn't love Paul either. Even the characters who were more likeable seemed generic and colorless. The plot led in some interesting directions, but I felt the story was overly long and downright dull in places. I did like the story's exotic setting, and the way King painted it with charming and vibrant details. I connected with King's Hawaii, if not with her characters.

So, my opinion of Sweet Life is decidedly ho-hum. I didn't love it, didn't hate it. In the end, I have to channel my inner Randy Jackson and say, "Sorry, dawg (wahine?), this one was just okay for me."

Grade: B-

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