“When faced with something scary, like a big dog or a really bad decision, it was important not to show fear.” This is the philosophy of Jenna Stevens, almost divorced from her husband Aaron who cheated on her and put down her creative sous chef efforts throughout their marriage. Jenna is trying to start a new business, a cooking store called Grate Expectations, with the emotional help of her mother Beth and the physical help of her father Marshall. Moving from Los Angeles back to her home town of Georgia, Texas, where her parents still live, Jenna feels broken-spirited and fears that her creative spark is gone. Trying to “fake it until you make it,” she throws herself entirely into her new endeavor.
Jenna hires Violet, who seems both fun and knowledgeable about business, and thinks to promote her to manager in the future. Jenna decides to give this business her best try since “She’d failed at her marriage. People did that and recovered. Many of them thrived. She could thrive, as well. She could figure out how to make starting over the best thing that ever happened to her.” But Jenna soon begins to realize that she knows nothing about business and has to learn from Violet that “It’s all about making people feel better about what they do.” Jenna learns to give cooking classes, wear aprons, sell food, and advertise, none of which she’d expected to do. Meanwhile Violet, whose childhood was a nightmare, starts to learn from Jenna how to be “normal,” and respected, even though she’s hit with a difficult situation along the way.
Always Home is about how women help each other, encouraging each other to go beyond their boundaries into unknown territories while given each other support as they do so. There’s a strange occurrence in Jenna’s life (which I won’t disclose) that causes quite a furor, and we see how Jenna copes and goes on to work everything out. The plot is plausible and intimate and readers will root for the protagonists, Jenna and Violet, as they try to create happier lives for themselves. Jenna recalls that “Her mother had always told her that being brave meant knowing you were afraid but doing whatever it was anyway. She’d done that and alllowed herself a moment of pride. Just as exciting was the desire to try something new again. To continue experimenting.”
Susan Mallery is intuitively a master of dialogue, which makes Already Home flowing and very easy to read. She is also observant of the tiniest details and able to articulate them well, so that we can visualize situations and people. Except for the villains, almost all of her characters are very likeable and it feels comfortable to be viewing and examing their their lives.
The power of time and healing are revealed as Jenna knows that “Seven months ago, she’d felt broken. She would have said her life was a failure. Now everything was different. Not just her different circumstances, but who she was on the inside. ” Recipes and Questions For Discussions makes this an even more appealing novel for Book Clubs!
Already Home by Susan Mallery, published by Mira Books on March 29, 2011, 368 pages.
Reviewed by Christina Zawadiwsky
Christina Zawadiwsky is Ukrainian-American, born in New York City, has a degree in Fine Arts, and is a poet, artist, journalist and TV producer. She has received a National Endowment for the Arts Award, two Wisconsin Arts Boards Awards, a Co-Ordinating Council of Literary Magazines Writers Award, and an Art Futures Award, among other honors. She was
the originator and producer of Where The Waters Meet, a local TV series created to facilitate the voices of artists of all genres in the media, for which she won two national and twenty local awards, including a Commitment to Community Television Award. She is also a contributing editor to the annual Pushcart Prize Anthology, the recipient of an Outstanding Achievement Award from the Wisconsin Library Association, and has published four books of poetry. She currently reviews movies for , music for , and books for .