April Book Club: THIS ONE IS MINE by Maria Semple

The April EDIWTB book club selection was This One Is Mine, by Maria Semple.

Semple I am having trouble deciding how I feel about this book. I'll start with the plot: it's about Violet and David Parry, a very rich married couple living in LA. Violet is a former TV writer and now stay-at-home mom with a one-year old daughter, and David is her remote and prone-to-criticize music producer husband. They are drowning in money, but have grown apart and alienated from each other. Violet gets involved with Teddy, a very sketchy man she meets during this period of alienation from David - an entanglement with some unexpected consequences. David's sister, Sally, is a ballet instructor in her late thirties and so desperate to get married that she gets engaged to a man she doesn't really know or understand, simply because his career is skyrocketing, but it doesn't bring her the fulfillment she seeks.

The other main character in this book is the city of Los Angeles, for This One Is Mine is really a satire of modern life in LA. (There's even a hand-drawn map of LA in the beginning of the book for readers who may not know where Mulholland Drive is compared to Wilshire Blvd. or the 405.) Semple, a former TV writer herself (including for my beloved Arrested Development), is quite adept at skewering the rich and aimless by revealing the ways they spend their money and time (fancy weddings; yoga sweat lodge retreats; the Hermes store). Most of the characters in this book are some combination of self-absorbed, materialistic, vengeful or desperate, and even if they have their redeeming moments, Semple's deft slash-and-burn makes for some powerful mockery.

But this book isn't always a satire. Sometimes it is instead a straightforward depiction of flawed characters who are motivated by all the wrong things. And for me, that's when the book was less successful, and bordered on implausible. I didn't need these characters to be likable, but I did need to understand them, to feel that what they were doing was consistent or at least explainable. And I couldn't always do that. Most often, my complaints had to to with Teddy and his inexplicable hold on all who came in his orbit. By the end of the novel, even David seemed under his spell. And yet, I saw almost nothing redeeming about him.  

This One Is Mine is a unique book – unpredictable and difficult to categorize. I am glad I read it, and expect that it will stay with me for a while. But I can't say that I loved it. A lot of the time, I felt sort of confused by it. I found this review of This One Is Mine by Miss Meliss on Bibliotica, and I really agreed with it. Like Miss Meliss, I suspect that a lot of people will enjoy this book (and judging by the Amazon reviews, a lot of people did). For me, it was interesting and had its high points, but it didn't work on every level.

I'm really looking forward to hearing what EDIWTB readers have to say about This One is Mine!

18 Comments

  • Kiki
    April 29, 2010 - 7:52 am | Permalink

    Did you see my review on Amazon? It was short, but I wanted to put something up…I really liked this book! A lot…it made me laugh, and while the lives of the lives of the characters are completely foreign to me in so many ways, I really related to Violet somehow. I probably shouldn’t be saying that, since she makes some pretty awful choices…but I liked her. And Sally and David and yes, even teddy. They were so flawed, and so real to me. This book, even with its embarrassingly descriptive sex scene, was right up my alley…or should I say my Mullholland Drive!

  • Lindsay
    April 29, 2010 - 8:23 am | Permalink

    I read this book through to completion to find out the ending more than anything else. I didn’t love it. I thought Violet behaved like and idiot and just couldn’t believe her plot line. The syringe being reused by Sally was just too much. Her relationship with Jeremy was too much to be believed – particularly with his Asperger’s diagnosis. I was not at all disappointed to reach the end. And then, the last chapter – from Teddy’s perspective was so odd since the rest of the book had been so different. It was really too bad – I had high hopes for this one.

  • April 29, 2010 - 9:22 am | Permalink

    I totally agree with your review – I liked the book, but it didn’t quite work for me.

  • Anne
    April 29, 2010 - 10:07 am | Permalink

    About 30 pages into this book, I looked up and said this is ridiculous. I got angry and felt like I knew exactly where it was going. I kept with it though and while I didn’t love it I liked it. I too found the flawed charcters interesting, but unbelievable. Everyone seemed so lost. It was a bit surprising to me that no one knew or talked to Sally about Jeremy’s clearly Autistic behaviors, though I suppose there was really no one to do it. Additionally, I’m not sure how Jeremy could have gotten to that point in life in this day and age without being aware.

  • Miriam
    April 29, 2010 - 10:50 am | Permalink

    I have not quite finished the book yet (had some stitches in my hand yesterday which slowed me down) and one good thing about the book is that you really want to find out what will happen to these crazy people. So I will finish. What really bothered me was that NONE of the characters had any redeeming characteristics! Maybe that was the author’s point that all these characters were pretty worthless but I wanted to like someone in there.
    The California way of life gets pretty trashed and that was amusing. But the crude parts of the book were annoying. I don’t get Teddy appeal at all as did other readers.
    Very interesting book but I can’t say I will recommend.

  • April 29, 2010 - 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the lively discussion, everyone. I appreciate you reading & discussing the book. It’s always interesting and surprising to see what readers think…
    And especially thanks to you, Galye, for hosting.

  • TLB
    April 29, 2010 - 12:09 pm | Permalink

    I had mixed feelings about this book. Some random thoughts:
    I do feel that the author could not decide whether she was writing a Serious Book or an Entertaining Read.
    Of course, a novel can be both, but Semple’s writing felt uneven to me; I thought that Beginner’s Greek was a better example of an easy read that is funny and has some serious themes.
    There were several parts that made me laugh out loud (virgin Rice Krispies) and it was fun to get a glimpse of the super-rich LA lifestyle but I never had a good grasp of why Violet was so unhappy and why she would turn to Teddy Reyes, who is so unlikeable.
    The plot was messy and a bit scattered but I appreciated that because life itself is messy and scattered.
    Sally and Jeremy seemed like caricatures rather than actual people, which was entertaining but a little disorienting, since we had a pretty good insight into the characters of Violet and David.
    Overall, not bad but I am not sure I would recommend it to others.

  • April 29, 2010 - 12:09 pm | Permalink

    Oh, a note to Kiki. I really like what you said about the sex scene– you totally understand my process. I wrote draft after draft without a sex scene, because I don’t like reading them, and didn’t want to write one. But it made no sense why Violet became so obsessed. And as I thought hard about it, I realized that to make it true to life, I’d have to have her replaying the sex over and over in her mind. And I couldn’t just say, “She kept replaying the sex scene over in her mind.” I had to break it down. Which is what, I think, happens. Thanks again, all.

  • April 29, 2010 - 12:30 pm | Permalink

    I totally agree. I will say that I came to appreciate this book more after I listened to an interview of the author.

  • Melissa Stream
    April 29, 2010 - 2:07 pm | Permalink

    First of all, thank you to Gayle for hosting the book club! I’m always looking forward to your reviews and suggestions.
    On this book, I’m definitely going to have to give it another read. From the very beginning, I had a huge problem with Violet and David. I just couldn’t relate to Violet who was such a doormat and seemed to try to please everyone but herself. After that the book was tainted and I couldn’t take her seriously. Sally also made me roll my eyes – another woman who just won’t be happy unless she’s married and settled down as long as its a warm body. The fact that there were TWO of such flawed women in this book who’s self esteems were so low just blew my mind. I wanted to jump in there and tell them both to put on their big girl panties and believe in themselves! I could appreciate Violet using her wealth to help others but the actions still seemed dubious and scattered.
    I had to keep reminding myself its fiction but I’m from southcentral Wisconsin – there’s no way I can relate to anything in this book with the affluent homes, cars, etc. I want and plan to re-read the book soon and start fresh and then one of my co-workers wants to read it after me so I’ll be passing it along.

  • April 29, 2010 - 2:37 pm | Permalink

    I almost felt like Sally could have been left out of the book entirely. Until the wedding, she had almost no interaction with Violet and David. I found it hard to believe that David would be so willing to forgive Violet without any discussion. But mostly I just could not understand the attraction to Teddy. It would take a lot more than charming, with all of his faults to get into my pants! That said, I did feel like I could understant Violet–right up to the point where she feel for Teddy. She had discovered that the old adage “be careful what you wish for, you just might get it” was true. She had totally lost herself in pursuit of what she thought she wanted and, in the process, lost any spark with her husband.

  • April 29, 2010 - 3:09 pm | Permalink

    I’m glad you made the point about LA as a character in the story, Gayle. This definitely struck me as an LA story – one that plays to, and off, many of the PERCEPTIONS about LA. I work in LA and live outside the city – there are many, many people here who don’t live like these characters do. (However, we’re much less interesting.)
    I tend to agree that the novel was a mixed bag. I didn’t think the satire was particularly pointed, and the more serious aspects of the story could have been explored in more depth. I actually liked Violet, though, and understood her to some extent, although I disagreed with many of her choices.
    And I did not get the appeal of Teddy at all, other than the fact he seemed attracted to Violet, and she needed to feel that from someone. But this was NOT a guy to dismantle your life for.
    I’ve wanted to read this for awhile, and I liked it but didn’t love it. Thanks for hosting the book club, Gayle!

  • April 29, 2010 - 6:24 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for letting me be a part of this. I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I did feel a little sorry for Violet though. It was a shame that she was berated by her husband and she felt alone and how she latched on to Teddy.

  • Kiki
    April 29, 2010 - 7:54 pm | Permalink

    I think all the characters, even the “worst” ones had some redeeming qualities. For one thing, despite Violet’s preoccupation with her depression/feelings of isolation and helplessness (if that is indeed what you would call her malaise), she and David, clearly love their child, Dot. Although Teddy is a down and out loser, he is trying to do better (he attends AA, and is trying to follow the “rules”), and definitely feels guilt about his affair with Violet. Even Sally, although she is completely self absorbed and unaware of the feelings of ANYONE else, she does finally connect with her sister in law in some kind of way…despite their years of ignoring one another. And maybe she even helps Jeremy. The diagnosis of Asperger’s was probably the most unbelievable thing in the book (for me), but I do believe there are plenty of people my age (40ish) who probably have some Autistic disorder before it was fashionable to be diagnosed with one ( I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s!), and have simply learned to deal with it.
    I can see where this book would even scare or even offend some people–it was a brutally honest book, but I really liked it!

  • April 29, 2010 - 9:03 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the opportunity to be part of the book club. I liked the book and found it entertaining. Not a favorite for me, but I’m glad that I read it.
    Having no experience with the LA lifestyle, I kind of hoped that the extremes that the characters went to were more imagined than true to life. Sally was the character that bothered me the most – selfish, flawed, self-absorbed, driven. I was happy with how her life turned out though – in a crazy way Hepatitis did good things for her.
    Violet’s relationship with Teddy was a stretch for me, but Violet seemed like she was so broken that she was reaching for anything to fill up her life. And um, wow, the sex scene… I obviously don’t read enough romance!

  • April 30, 2010 - 8:22 am | Permalink

    It has been quite awhile since I read this one but I really enjoyed it. As Florinda points out, it does take a look a lifestyle that some of us don’t have the opportunity to lead nor see up close. Violet’s choices are so incomprehensible and Teddy was despicable, and I thought I would hate all of the characters, but I slowly come to understand them and care about what happened to them. I think I was definitely helped b the fact that I have seen some of the outrageous behavior with the cars, money, designer childcare, and yoga. The satire wasn’t extreme but I enjoyed the understatedness of it, and laughed out loud quite a bit. I think this is a great pick for a book club, and reading through this discussion was wonderful, and reinforces my opinion about that. I love it when a book stirs up feeling and discussion. I found that it was quite difficult to be indifferent to any of the characters.

  • April 30, 2010 - 9:26 pm | Permalink

    I am quite ambivalent about this book myself. I loved it initially, then it started to not work for me, it picked up steam, but the end wore me out. Ultimately, I’m glad I read it, but I’m not sure I enjoyed it. I’m eager to read her next book, but I’m not sure if I would recommend it to anyone except to say “read this book so we can talk about it, but it’s not that great.” It’s certainly a conversation starter!

  • May 5, 2010 - 11:58 am | Permalink

    I haven’t read your post yet, just stopping by and saw you read this for a BC selection (I have just been too busy this year). I am reading this ‘next’ and can’t wait to stop back and read your thoughts and participate in the discussion :).

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