Sunday, November 16, 2008

Review--Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe, by Jennie Shortridge


Mira Serafino is living what seems to be a perfect life, fulfilled in her career as a teacher, happy as a wife to her college sweetheart, and busy with her family and friends in her small, coastal Oregon hometown. She adores her only daughter, Thea, though she does not find it easy to parent her now that Thea has chosen to forego college and pursue the life of a musician. Then Mira’s life is turned upside down when she finds out her husband Parker is seeing another woman. Unable to face the scrutiny of her family and the busybodies of her small town, Mira bolts from her life, driving north until she hits Seattle. There she finds the Coffee Shop at the Center of the Universe, owned by Gus, who is more interested in surfing and skiing than owning a coffee shop, and staffed by a motley crew of inefficient young people. Mira steps in to help run the place, and in the meantime, she picks up the pieces of her life, and begins to find a new version of herself.

I found Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe to be warm and witty, and also wise. The author’s style is down-to-earth and readable, and the characters are wonderfully fallible and real. Main character Mira comes from a large Italian family that, it turns out, holds many secrets. When her life starts falling apart around her, she basically leaves it behind, and this gives her the perspective she needs to change her bad habits and rethink what she wants and needs out of life. I was intrigued by Mira’s transformation from a perfectionist to someone who, in her daughter Thea’s words, “didn’t seem so worried about everything. She was just kinda going with the flow of whatever was happening, not making anybody do anything, not overplanning and stressing out, not making Thea feel guilty about anything.” Mira has learned to just be, in the moment.

Being near Mira’s age (and veteran of 14 years of marriage, and parenting a child who is approaching the teen years) I couldn’t help reading this without a bit of fantasizing—what would it be like to start life over now? There’s sexual freedom and freedom from constrictive responsibilities and freedom to redefine oneself, balanced against the pain of the loss of love and the severing of lifelong relationships. Shortridge doesn’t sugar-coat Mira’s experience—though she tells the story with plenty of humor--and she explores the good and the bad in Mira’s situation equally.

The relationships in the book were rich and interesting. I particularly enjoyed the exploration of the relationship between Mira and her controlling, strict grandmother, juxtaposed with the relationship between Mira and her rebellious daughter. And I thought even the smaller relationships—Mira’s relationship with her best friend Lannie, and with her estranged brother Fonso--were insightfully written. The only character I wanted to get to know better was Mira’s husband Parker—we get into the heads of some of the other characters besides Mira, including Thea and Mira’s grandmother Nonna--but the portrayal of Parker left me wanting a little more.

I’m not always seduced by a happy ending, but here it was totally appropriate that Mira’s life is in some way healed by her experiences. I enjoyed reading about Mira’s adventures, and I also loved that they both made me think and made me laugh. I look forward to reading Jennie Shortridge’s next book.

Tomorrow come back and see my Q & A with author Jennie Shortridge, who makes a stop here on her TLC Book Tour.


11 comments:

Booklogged said...

Being a retired biology teacher the title of this book immediately caught my attention. It sounds different than I expected, but still very interesting.

Gentle Reader said...

booklogged--the main character is a science teacher (middle school, I believe)! Not retired yet, but she takes a sort of unplanned sabbatical when she runs away from her life...I related to her midlife crisis :)

litlove said...

This sounds like a wonderful comfort read! I must admit to entertaining the same leave-it-all-behind fantasies sometimes. Doesn't starting over sound awfully appealing? Have you read Anne Tyler's Ladder of Years? The main protagonist does something similar and I just loved that book.

jenclair said...

Thanks for the review! I'm interested in the "sabbatical" - always love the escape fantasy. I did read Tyler's Ladder of Years that litlove mentions. Read it years ago and actually considered doing it, starting over in a completely new environment!

Gentle Reader said...

litlove--It is a comfort read, and similar in tone to the Eleanor Lippman book I read when you recommended her--snappy, yet warm. And I also recognized this author's thematic similarities to Anne Tyler--though I couldn't remember which book it was where the wife just took off! I do think about starting over, but usually in a less dramatic fashion :)

jenclair--I read Ladder of Years, too, and at the time, though I liked the book, the idea didn't resonate with me--but now it would!

Matt said...

Teacher and coffee are enough to attract my attention. You have successfully sold me this book. This escape fantasy would be a comfort read for me over the holiday.

Gentle Reader said...

matt--definitely a comfort read :)

Jennie Shortridge said...

Thanks so much for the thoughtful and insightful review! It's always so gratifying when a reader really "gets" what I've tried to communicate about human interaction and reaction. I find it all so fascinating--I think I'm a little bit of a scientist myself.

And thank you, thank you, for the good you do for books, and for readers!

Gentle Reader said...

jennie--thank you! I am now planning to run out and read your other books, and impatiently awaiting your next book, which sounds really fascinating :)

Lori said...

Okay, I had to buy it! Can't wait to read it.

Gentle Reader said...

Lori--let me know what you think!