23 August 2018

Smart Women by Judy Blume




In case you haven't figured it out just yet, I love Judy Blume. I loved all of her young adult fiction throughout my teens and then was pleasantly surprised to learn she wrote some adult fiction as well as I got older. My absolute favourite is Summer Sisters (which you can read more about here). My parents got me this one for Christmas back in 2016 and I only just got around to reading it. While it wasn't a life-changing piece of fiction for me the way Summer Sisters was, I did really enjoy it and think it seemed to have an incredibly accurate finger on the pulse of complex adult relationships (not that I'd know anything about those).

The book follows a divorcee named Margo and her circle of friends, which include two other divorcees named BB and Clare. They each have children who have their own sub-plots as well, but the focus is really on Margo and her evolving relationship with her friend BB's ex-husband Andrew. BB, same as Margo, moved to Boulder following her divorce to 'start fresh'. Eventually BB's ex-husband decides to spend the summer in Boulder to spend more time with his daughter Sara and ends up getting romantically involved with Margo. Through these relationships we learn a lot about Margo's relationship with her ex-husband and their children, BB and Andrew's past relationship and the ones with their children, and how hard it is as adults to make romantic decisions knowing there are children involved (something I know nothing about but now feel qualified to discuss apparently).

Sure, we were proud of our work, proud we could support ourselves, and we weren't about to stay in bad marriages. Why should we? (Just look at the statistics: Our generation married young and divorced often.) But when it came right down to it, most of us still wanted a man in the house, a man in our bed- just not the man we married the first time. We wanted one of those new and enlightened types, the kind we'd been reading about."

The most interesting part of this book to me was the foreword from Blume where she outlines that while this is fiction, there are definitely some autobiographical elements to the story. Specifically, that despite her best efforts not to, Margo's daughter Michelle in the novel is very similar to her own daughter. She also discusses how hard it is to set a book in a city where you've never lived, and how despite going and spending extended time in Boulder, she never felt like she really knew the city well enough to write about it. I've always been interested in how fiction writers tackle this. Elin Hilderbrand for example, sets all her books in Nantucket as she grew up there, avoiding writing about any settings she doesn't know that well. Nicholas Sparks on the other hand moves temporarily to the location he's writing about, the strategy Blume mentioned didn't work for her.

Judy Blume


One of the more interesting aspects of the story revolves around BB and Andrew's son dying at the age of ten. BB doesn't tell anyone about her late son the entire time she lives in Boulder and it isn't until Andrew becomes involved with Margo that anyone finds out. Their son died in a car accident with Andrew driving (although not deemed his fault) years before the story takes place. BB chooses to move to a new city and pretend this never happened, never sharing photos of her son or talking about him.

This entire plot line is something you can think about until the cows come home but still have no idea how you'd react. BB spent a lot of time blaming Andrew for their son's death. She divorces him and moves her daughter halfway across the country, acting especially resentful anytime Andrew wanted to see her. It's extremely sad. You empathize with Andrew mostly until the end of the book where BB has a psychotic episode that has a lot to do with her un-resolved grief. I don't know that even the best marriages could survive this happening to them.

'That's bullshit,' Margo said, draining her champagne glass. 'Why should we have to choose between a man and a friend?'
'I don't know. I suppose because it's hard to keep that kind of intimacy going with more than one person at a time. While I was married to Robin I never had friends... real friends... did you?'
'I had friends,' Margo said, 'but I never confided in them until my marriage fell apart.'
'You see?'
'But it doesn't have to be that way.' Margo poured herself another glass of champagne. She knew she was going to be sick, but she didn't care."

Other topics covered throughout this novel include: teen pregnancy and abortion, being a child of divorced parents, divorce, parenting, blended families, step-parenting, being a child to a step-parent, sibling rivalries, parent disapproval, marriage, sex, love, grief, coming of age, parent rivalries, friendship, dating, etc. I do believe there's something for everyone here.

This wasn't my absolute favourite Blume read, but it wasn't bad either. I think there was potentially TOO much happening that it was hard to feel invested in any one plot line or character. I think a lot of middle-aged women would enjoy it, and especially those who are single and trying to find love again. In any case, it was an especially easy read and not slow... it would have made a good addition to our beach reads list. You can't ever seem to go wrong with Judy Blume. 

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