A False Sense of Well Being by Jeanne Braselton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A well-written novel, with a strong first-person voice—unfortunately, not a voice I wanted to spend so much time with.
A False Sense of Well Being is a character driven novel in the traditional sense; the plot barely exists except as a framework for the emotional growth of the narrator. But, perhaps because this is a first-time author, it takes a good third of the book to even get to the authors main issue, and there’s lots of filler. The secondary characters are well-drawn and strong, but they obscure the main theme of the novel (to say more would be spoilers), and then it doesn’t get resolved, such as it is, until the last three pages. It’s too little time.
Basically, all that time wasted made me just want to smack the narrator upside the head (and perhaps it’s not the best sign that I can’t remember her name). It’s like…just grow up lady! She worries so much and so long about why she isn’t happy without figuring out what it would mean for her to be happy, or what her real issues are.
Jessie’s (there, I looked it up) story starts when she is 38 and dissatisfied with her marriage, or assumes she must be, because she keeps dreaming up ways for her husband to die. Not murder, just…accidents. To get away from the situation, she goes back home.
Note: she calls her suburban-Georgia town ‘small’, even though she apparently grew up in the Georgian sticks—which still has a mall? Having grown up in a true small town, anywhere with suburbs cannot be described as small. So.
Well, after many and varied rural adventures, such as they are, Jessie confronts her own misunderstandings of the past, but it isn’t until she makes it back to, at least, the same town as her husband where she understands her own difficulty—which, as I said, only happens in the very last pages. Now, she’s supposed to be some kind of social worker, so it was frustrating how little she could understand her own issues, especially when I saw it the moment it was mentioned.
It didn’t help that I could have little sympathy for her situation. After she married her husband, she went from the rural, small town girl, to joining her banker-husband’s upper-middle class social strata, where she worries about impressing the neighbors and being the perfect, conventional housewife. She has all this free time, but never gets herself any hobbies or does anything to define herself. I wanted to shake her: get a life! And stop worrying about being ‘happy’ in the drugged sense, unless you intend on drugging yourself. She probably should have gotten therapy, come to think about it.
Anyway, most of the primary characters in the novel are difficult to sympathize with, but especially Jessie. All of her interactions with Wanda McNab made me intensely uncomfortable, especially the way she framed her views, and her limp reaction to her secret (to say more would be spoilers) frustrated me.
Still, I’m glad I read it for all my complaints. She did get somewhere, eventually, and I did think the resolution worked for the novel. I just think it could have been a bit more streamlined; and while the descriptions were good, I still think it could have taken place just as well in someplace like the suburbs of southern California.
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