Short Take: The most depressing episode of Three’s Company EVER.
(*Note: I received an advance copy of this book for review.*)
Hello my nerdlings! I’m back after a long-ish absence, which I don’t have any good reason for other than a general lack of motivation, and maybe a bit of CERM (Current Events Related Malaise, wherein everything is terrible all the time and blathering about whatever I’ve read seems equal parts pointless and disrespectful to the people who are Dealing With Real Stuff). But I’m physically incapable of keeping my opinions to myself for any substantial length of time, so here we are. Let’s dive in, shall we?
We meet Livia and Adam, happily-ish married for a couple of decades, on the morning of Livia’s FORTIETH BIRTHDAY PARTY, and yes, it must be shouted from the rooftops, because this is LIVIA’S PERFECT DAY. She didn’t get to have a wedding that young girls dream about so she’s going all-out for this party. She’s saved for years, planned every detail of the catering and music and whatnot, and it has to be PERFECT.
Her family and friends humor her a lot more than I probably would. I just couldn’t relate to a 40 year old woman who demands to be celebrated to that extent. Maybe because I’m old, and birthdays don’t feel like a Big Thing anymore, maybe because I don’t like being the center of attention and the thought of dozens of people staring & taking photos while I just want to eat the cake that’s currently covered in tiny flames is the stuff of nightmares. With a great husband, smart healthy kids who’ve made it to adulthood, a decent income, and a lovely home, why so much focus on the one thing you’ve been denied? There was just something so childish and bratty about Livia’s IT’S FINALLY MY DAY attitude.
Because The Dilemma is billed as a thriller, there needs to be some kind of great big Thing Going Wrong, and we are actually handed two of them: in the titular storyline, Adam finds out something horrible that may or may not be true. Sure, he could probably just contact someone who knows and find out for sure but this is the kind of thing that would destroy Livia’s life, or even worse, her FORTIETH BIRTHDAY PARTY. Should he find out for sure? Because if it’s true, he would have to tell her, but the longer he stays dumb, the less responsibility he has to take for telling or not telling Livia.
Meanwhile, Livia ALSO has a secret that may not ruin Adam’s life, but will definitely upset him a whole lot if he finds out which could also throw a wrench in the FORTIETH BIRTHDAY PARTY extravaganza of perfection. So of course she can’t tell him, at least not till after the party, because PRIORITIES, PEOPLE. Again, this is a forty year old woman.
So as we follow Jack & Larry… er, Adam & their son Josh readying the house, or Livia heading to the Regal Beagle for pre-party drinks with Chrissy & Janet (ok, FINE, going to a local spa with some of her friends for massages and whatnot), the miscommunications pile up, and more of the troubled early days of their marriage are described. And both Jack and Livia fret over their own secrets and coverups, and it’s blatantly awful. Because the things they are carrying are bleak and grim and it’s just a big pile of unrelenting misery without even the charm of Mrs. Roper’s flowing caftans to break it up.
In the end of course, Everything Is Revealed, and all the terrible stuff comes out, and Livia’s perfect FORTIETH BIRTHDAY PARTY is served up with a side order of life-destroying awful. So, yay?
I just couldn’t find anything to like about this book. As I said earlier, Livia is a Bridezilla without a wedding, and Adam is a wishy-washy wimp who pretends that he’s doing his wife a favor by letting her have her dream party that will be forever tied to the worst events of her life. That’s some next-level passive-aggressive cruelty. Their friends are all equally terrible in differing ways, and the kids are basically props. The one adult child who makes their own decisions is vilified for it.
I believe Ms. Paris was trying to build suspense by not letting the truth out till the very end, but the final result is an ultra-depressing deep-dive into the minds of a narcissist & her enabler. It’s not fun or enjoyable, there’s no payoff other than finally knowing what actually happened, and the people who started the story unhappy and dissatisfied end it even more so.
The Nerd’s Rating: TWO HAPPY NEURONS (and some vodka on the patio. I am ready for some sunshine and peace, for a few minutes, anyway.