Thursday, February 05, 2009

A Whole Lotta Humor and A Whole Lotta Heart

(Image from HarperCollins)

Most 30-year-old's would envy Emily Rhodes' life - she works for a prestigious law firm; owns her own Manhattan co-op; and dates a loyal man who's ready to commit - so why is she ready to run for cover? This is the question that permeates Jill A. Davis' second novel, Ask Again Later. It's the story of a woman who lives life with one foot out the door, always ready to bolt. But when her mother receives a shocking diagnosis - cancer - Emily knows she can't run. She has to face the fact that she may lose her mother. Facing that fact makes her face several others - 1.) She's a workaholic, whose career sucks away all her time, 2.) She's going out with a great guy to whom she's terrified to commit, 3.) She's still grieving the father who took off when she was a kid and 4.) Her most satisfying relationship may just be with her coffee machine.

Desperately needing a change, Emily quits the job, walks out on the boyfriend, and vows to take care of her mother. If she thinks that's going to be easy, she's forgotten with whom she is dealing. Joanie Rhode may be dying, but she's certainly not going to go quietly. First, she has to phone everyone she's ever known - including her arthritic former hairdresser, and the exchange student who lived with her in the early '90s - to suggest they stop by to pay their final respects. Of course, the cancer is only Stage 1, and the oncologists fully expect her to beat it without even undergoing chemo, but Emily's determined to do what she can. So, she hangs out with her mom watching soap operas and sipping green tea. Eventually, she takes a job at her father's law firm, even though it's a receptionist gig where nothing's really expected of her. With help from her therapist, Emily uses the time to evaluate her family, whose history is "a never-ending surprise party" (69); her relationships; and her own future. With a whole lot of humor and a whole lot of heart, she just might make it out alive.

I'll be honest - it took me a little while to get into this book. In the first chapters (which are incidentally, short, fast and very readable), I couldn't help being annoyed with Emily - I mean, seriously, all she did was gripe and make weird observations (like whether or not her refrigerator would be jealous of her new coffee machine). Twenty or so pages into it, though, I was hooked. Davis, who's written obits, a humor column, and Top 10 lists for David Letterman, knows how to write brisk, snappy prose that entertains while keeping the plot moving right along. Her characters are flawed, but endearing. I especially loved Joanie, whose every antic made me laugh. All of these elements combine to create a novel that is both laugh-out-loud funny and subtly poignant. It's a novel about grief, survival, and finding happiness through self-discovery. It's about mothers and daughters, so you know there's going to be drama, but there's also a whole lot of heart in this funny, surprisingly moving little book.

Grade: B

3 comments:

  1. So I checked out this book last week. I guess I should have read your review better because I could not EVER get into it. I started skipping pages and then just plain stopped it.
    I've been in a funk with books and this one was not for me. I needed humor so I got the Diary of wimpy kid #2. It just what I needed.

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  2. I had a hard time getting into this one too, but in the end I liked it. Sorry you couldn't get into it at all.

    I have some big Diary of a Wimpy Kid fans at my house. In fact, I just broke up a fight between my 2 oldest over who got to read the 3rd book for the 2nd time!

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