Below, I have my official review, but before that I should also mention that this book has a blurb from me on the back, and not one of my Booklist reviews (someone else reviewed this for Booklist and gave it a star), but a blurb attributed to me. I took a picture, see:
I really liked this book, and I am not the only one. Besides the starred Booklist review, Laura Dern is developing this debut novel for television. Here is the Variety article with all of the details.
Also, if you live in Chicago, Ms. McDaniel will be reading/signing books at Book Cellar in Chicago this Saturday. Click here for info.
But first, you need to know more about this title. Mr & Mrs American Pie by Juliet McDaniel. Here is the summary from Goodreads:
The year is 1969. Dick Nixon was just sworn in as the thirty-seventh President of the United States. Neil Armstrong just took one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind. And notable Palm Springs socialite Maxine Simmons just found out that her husband is leaving her for his twenty-two-year-old secretary.
After a public meltdown at Thanksgiving, Maxine finds herself not only divorced, but exiled to Scottsdale, Arizona. However, these desert boondocks will not be her end―only her Elba. The former beauty queen sets her eyes on a new crown: that of the Mrs. American Pie pageant, awarded to the nation’s best wife and mother.
Maxine only has one problem: to win the crown she’ll need to find―or build―a family of her own.Appeal: Let’s start with some of what I said above “A hilarious and thought-provoking satire with as much heart as bite.”
This is technically what was called “women’s fiction,” but what I am now calling domestic fiction. But this is one of most interesting, unique, and inclusive domestic fiction tales I have ever read. And what stuck me most was how the novel is set in the 1970s but it teaches us all so much about our world today. This is why it rises above other similar novels.
Here are just some of the issues that come up in the book:
- commentary on the role of women in society and their limited choices for “success”
- Vietnam War
- being a gay man
- desegregation and racism
- child neglect
- definition of “family,” specifically how we can make our own happy family, one that can be stronger than the traditional, socially normal, ties of conventional marriage and parenthood.
This are series issues, right? Yes they are, but guess what, the book is not a Jodi Picoult emotion-fest. These issues are all dealt with respectfully and honestly but this book is hilarious, heart-wariming and ultimately upbeat. It will make you think about serious issues; it’s bordering on irreverent and moves at a compulsively readable pace. Serious scenes are followed by hilarious caper-espque action sequences.
But none of this would work if McDaniel didn’t have superior character development. Our three main narrators-- Maxine, her friend Robert, and a boy Chuck-- take turns telling the story. They are 3 dimensional. We root for them equally but they are not perfect, not even close, but they all mean well. Each has personal issues that they need to deal with but they all want to do the right thing. Together they find happiness in their cobbled together family, surprising many people, but most importantly themselves. They are an inspiring bunch who make you cringe, laugh and cheer.
I started this book because the publisher asked me to take a look at it. I meant to only skim it to give him basic feedback; however, once I started it, I was glued to my couch for the rest of the day, ignoring all else to finish it. I was surprised how much I loved it.
McDaniel reveals the truth behind the curtain of the "perfect family" in 1970 America, makes you think about how far we have and haven’t come since then, and lets you have a good laugh at all of our own expenses.
Three Words That Describe This Book: satire, thought provoking, heart-warming
Readalikes: This is a book you can hand out to men, women, fans of literary fiction, domestic fiction, and crime caper. It is also a great option for book clubs and has teen appeal too.
As I said above, this is a great title for a satirical look at family and women’s lives like those by Maria Semple and Helen Ellis with all of Carl Hiaasen’s crime, caper humor and pacing.
A nonfiction option that also matches this novel very well is I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi which, like Ms McDaniel’s book is irreverent and thought provoking but still very upbeat.