Letting Go struck me as more of a character study than a plot-driven novel, which was a problem since I didn’t come to like or even care about most of its main characters. It’s the story of four generations of one family: Great-grandmother Wilma, her middle-aged daughter Ellen, Ellen’s daughter Amber, and Amber’s three-year-old daughter Jet. Circumstances have brought the four under one roof, but they are decidedly not your average happy family.
Ellen’s finally lost the middle-class home she thought she’d always have; after the death of her husband Paul, she had to sell it to help settle the debts they incurred in his final illness. The only place she has to go is to her mother’s house, so here she is, with single parent Amber and cute-as-a-button Jet in tow. The oft-married Wilma is living in the house her last husband left her, but now his adult kids are threatening to evict her, claiming that the old man never meant for Wilma to have it. Oh, no! What are they going to do?
Well, Ellen’s going to whine a lot – at least to herself. How could Paul have left her in such a bad spot? They lost everything when Paul got cancer and they spent every penny on increasingly futile attempts to cure him. Five years after his death, she has nothing. Business, house, cash reserves, retirement – all gone. Now, even though she practically ran his accounting firm for the last few years of his life, because she’s not a CPA, she has to take a low-paying, entry-level job as an assistant to Max Roper, “the Cowboy of Taxes” (Taxes – Texas – get it?) in a decidedly low-rent district. Since none of her so-called friends from her former life are willing to help her with her legal problems (not even Paul’s best friend!), she has to hire an attorney she knows nothing about to handle the threatened eviction. Of course he never returns her calls and she’s getting frantic. Where will they go? What will they do?
Amber, an assistant manager at a lingerie shop (and a barfly-in-training), takes shameless advantage of her mother and grandmother, spending her evenings gallivanting along the San Antonio Riverwalk with her friends, picking up men and drinking, while Ellen and Wilma baby-sit Jet. She lets her friend Gwen talk her into getting an apartment together, but there’s a catch: she can’t bring Jet with her. Amber agrees to this, even before she talks it over with Ellen, in whose care Amber is going to leave the toddler. Then there’s the question of how to come up with the cash for security deposits at the new place. Without giving anything away, let me just say that the proposed solution to that dilemma was revolting and quashed any sympathy, no mater how tenuous, I had for Amber’s character.
Wilma’s got a plan of her own to save the family’s bacon, and the way she goes about it is about the only thing I found amusing or engaging in the book. Well past her prime and chained to an oxygen tank, the emphysemic grandma dolls herself up and sets out to charm the pants off Ellen’s new boss. She figures that if she can get him interested enough, he might help them stave off their eviction. She might not have many skills in life (aside form an encyclopedic knowledge of vegetables and produce), but she knows men, and how to win them over. The fact that she finds Max attractive only adds to Wilma’s enjoyment of her self-appointed mission.
There was too much going on in the book to keep me focused on any one storyline for any length of time. Is this Ellen’s part of the story? Oh, now we’re back in Amber’s good-times lifestyle – no, wait, we’re following Wilma and her oxygen tank around. But Ellen’s and Amber’s characters were so unengaging for me that neither of them could have carried the story by herself, and while Wima made a great secondary character, I couldn’t imagine a whole book about just her. On top of it, Jet is one of those annoyingly, cloyingly perfect fictional children – never a whine, never a whimper, just drop her into the story as you like and she’ll behave like a paragon. In a way she’s like Pearl in The Scarlet Letter, more an allegory for her mother’s sins than a real character in her own right, and an irritating one at that. And while I’m talking about nineteenth-century literature, the resolution of the family’s difficulties had a distinctly Dickensian ring to it: it wasn’t so much what the characters did proactively as what just so happened to occur that solved their problems.
Ellen has this annoying habit of turning over pennies that she finds face-down, so the next person who comes along will get the good luck associated with Honest Abe’s face. While this wasn’t a truly terrible read, I can’t recommend crossing the street or even the aisle to pick it up – you’ll find better a better read elsewhere.