In Her Shoes
Maggie Feller has the body, the attitude, and the dream of being a star; unfortunately she’s also dyslexic and uses that learning disability as her excuse for everything that goes wrong in her life. Rose Feller has the brains, the Ivy League education, and the job at an upscale Philadelphia law firm; alas she doesn’t have a model’s body or great fashion sense, and she has Maggie. All these two sisters have in common is the same shoe size and a lust for fashionable shoes.
When the story opens Maggie has just lost another job, been evicted from another apartment, and her father’s wife (her “step-monster,” Sydelle) refuses to let her come home, so she ends up living on Rose’s couch. Rose, whose life seems to be everything she could hope for (and a sexy new boyfriend), doesn’t want Maggie, but she’s been caring for her sister for so long she can’t say no. Maggie trashes her apartment, has bill collectors calling 24/7, borrows Rose’s shoes, and after a terrifying weekend incident decides to lash out at the one person she’s always relied on and sleeps with Rose’s boyfriend. It’s the final straw, for the first time in her life Rose refuses to pick up the pieces for Maggie. So with her belongings in a trash bag and a two-decade-old birthday card from the grandmother she doesn’t know, Maggie heads out for parts unknown. Surprisingly Rose is as lost as her sister, and she takes a leave of absence from her job and starts a dog walking business. Both sisters strive to find themselves and their way back to the friendship they’d lost.
There is also a sub-plot woven through the story about their maternal grandmother, Ella Hirsch. After her daughter Caroline died in a possibly suicidal car accident, she was cut out of her young granddaughters’ lives. She tried for years to get in touch with them, to no avail. She now lives in a Florida retirement community, keeping her days filled with charity and volunteer work. She’s built a shell around her heart until Lewis, the community’s newspaper editor, decides to work his way in and one of her charity cases, Mrs. Lefkowitz, helps break down those walls. With their help she decides to track down her granddaughters.
There is a lot going on in this book, which is sadly one of its drawbacks. There are so many points of view being juggled that eventually something had to fall through the cracks, like a resolution to the issues brought up. Instead – after much angst and little talking – everyone forgives everyone for no apparent reason. This leaves the reader unsatisfied after a great build up and intense character sturdy. In Her Shoes is less about plot and more about exploring the lives of these three unique women and their motivations, and that is the story’s saving grace.
It’s a tight race, but this is mostly Maggie’s book, which is fitting because she’s the character with the most to overcome. Maggie is very intelligent, but her disability prevents her from doing simple things like ringing up a coupon at a cash register or reading a teleprompter. This frustrates her attempts at steady employment or fulfilling her dream of becoming famous. So she’s learned to rely solely on her looks to get through in the world, and unfortunately this brings a lot of unwanted attention from men, which is what happened the weekend before she slept with Rose’s boyfriend. The reader is jerked around nearly as much as Rose by Maggie’s mercurial behavior – one minute you feel completely sorry for and the next you want to slap her.
Rose is the sane one, the sensible one, the steady sister, but like Maggie she’s unhappy. Unlike Maggie she doesn’t know it. She’s bored with her job, doesn’t like her boss, and has a boyfriend that can’t keep it in his pants. Rose doesn’t realize it at first but Maggie is the best thing that could happen to her. She shakes up Rose’s routine and forces her to re-evaluate who and what’s important to her. As her life comes back together, the only regret that remains is the lost relationship with her sister, and until she has that back she’ll never truly be happy.
Ella is the one with the answers and brings the girls back together. Her romance and re-awakening with Lewis is sweet and touching. A woman who lost her daughter, Ella has taken nearly twenty years to get through the grief to try to reach out again and to bond with people again. As Ella learns that it’s okay to be happy, her granddaughters learn what it means to be happy for the first time.
Overall I really enjoyed In Her Shoes, but not nearly as much as Weiner’s first book, Good in Bed, which had a more cohesive story and a satisfying conclusion. Here there are too many points of view, some of which are irrelevant. Rose’s two-timing boyfriend gets an entire chapter, but his relevance to the story is too minimal to justify the time spent inside his head. On the other hand, there are no scenes at all from the point of view of a character introduced somewhat later with a lot of relevance to Rose’s happiness, and, worst of all, as the story continues there are fewer and fewer meaningful conversations. That’s why at the end I couldn’t buy the happily-ever-after. Nothing is really resolved.
As a character study and for the buildup I can highly recommend In Her Shoes, and I look forward to Weiner’s next offering, but I will admit to being left slightly unsatisfied with this book.