I read Maria Semple’s novel This One Is Mine because her second book, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, was such a fun read. I’m still not sure exactly how I feel about Semple’s first novel. Let me start with the positive: it was a fun, fast read. The characters were interesting, even if they weren’t entirely likable (which, to me, makes them fairly realistic). The setting — LA, Santa Barbara, and Ventura — made me homesick in a good way and added to the reading experience for me.
That being said, I was bothered by a couple of aspects of the novel. The Sally character was really hard for me to understand. I think Semple held off on giving the reader insights into Sally’s character for a little too long, which made her particularly unlikable for most of the novel (until the very end when she became relatable). And then there’s Jeremy. [PLOT SPOILER!] Jeremy’s portrayed in a way that is simultaneously interesting and problematic. Interesting because he’s portrayed as a super-genius sports columnist (turned television personality) who functions well enough to get by, but is obviously lacking in the social skills department. Problematic because he’s revealed to have Asperger’s partway through the novel and then promptly becomes a spokesperson for finding a “cure” for the “disease.” I find him interesting because he’s portrayed as a success, but problematic because the concept of a “cure” for Autism and Asperger’s is highly debated in real life, but left untouched in Semple’s novel. In fact, it’s not just unquestioned, it’s portrayed as somewhat obvious and assumed that someone who finds out he has Asperger’s would want to find a “cure” for it…despite his wild success as a media sensation.
So anyway, all that’s to say that as a light summer read, Semple’s novel is enjoyable and quick…but as a political text, it’s somewhat flawed. Overall, I enjoyed the characters (especially Violet) and noticed that Semple seems to like to write characters who are emotionally unstable, struggling with their marriages and/or romantic relationships, and have young children whose births seem to have changed their lives in difficult ways.