Desert Isle Keeper
Life and Other Inconveniences
Emma London never thought she had anything in common with her grandmother Genevieve London. The regal old woman came from wealthy and bluest-blood New England stock, but that didn’t protect her from life’s cruelest blows: the disappearance of Genevieve’s young son, followed by the premature death of her husband. But Genevieve rose from those ashes of grief and built a fashion empire that was respected the world over, even when it meant neglecting her other son.
When Emma’s own mother died, her father abandoned her on his mother’s doorstep. Genevieve took Emma in and reluctantly raised her–until Emma got pregnant her senior year of high school. Genevieve kicked her out with nothing but the clothes on her back…but Emma took with her the most important London possession: the strength not just to survive but to thrive. And indeed, Emma has built a wonderful life for herself and her teenage daughter, Riley.
So what is Emma to do when Genevieve does the one thing Emma never expected of her and, after not speaking to her for nearly two decades, calls and asks for help?
Kristen Donnelly, Shannon Dyer and Dabney Grinnan read Kristan Higgins’ latest novel, Life and Other Inconveniences, and are here to share their thoughts about it.
Dabney: This book broke my heart. In a good way.
Shannon: It broke mine too. Genevieve and Emma are damaged in very different ways, and the author did such a great job making me cheer them on, even when I didn’t like things they were doing.
Dabney: Yep. Higgins is wonderful at creating complex women whose flaws don’t make you cringe.
Shannon: Genevieve was hard for me to warm up to initially. She treated Emma horribly, and I couldn’t understand what would cause her to behave that way. Fortunately, learning a bit about her back story helped turn her into a relatable character. Did either of you have a similar experience with her?
Dabney: I couldn’t stand Genevieve for much of the book. BUT. I really enjoyed her as a character. This is one of Higgins’ great skills–she can write characters whom you don’t like, aren’t rooting for, and still can’t wait to see what they do next.
Kristen: Oh, I never found her relatable, to be honest, but I could understand her by the end. If she wasn’t who she was, Emma wouldn’t be herself, after all and I did love Emma. While I have a great relationship with my mother, I have several friends who are more in the Genevieve and Emma camp and I could see so much of them in Emma.
Shannon: It’s funny that you say that, Kristen. My relationship with my own mother contains hints of these characters, and I’m wondering if having been raised by someone who reminds me a bit of Genevieve made her easier for me to relate to.
Kristen: Oh, fascinating!
Dabney: Ha. I think I’m far more Genevieve than my own mom who is the loveliest person I know.
Kristen: I have come to adore the way Higgins writes mothers and daughters like Emma and Riley, however, and so I want to talk about Riley for a minute. I was impressed with how she was able to separate her relationship with her grandmother from her mother’s relationship with Genevieve. Did you all feel the same?
Shannon: One of my favorite things about this author’s writing is her ability to bring complex family dynamics to life on the page. The relationship between Emma and Riley is the perfect example of this. It would have been so easy for Riley to view Genevieve the way Emma did, and I loved her for not doing that. She forged a unique relationship with her, one that didn’t hinge on anyone but the two of them.
Dabney: Absolutely. I come from a large close family and one of the rules–which, granted, is hard to follow–is that we all strive to have individual relationships with each other and not allow the dynamics of one relationship to overly influence another. Higgins does that in almost all her books–one character can have a vastly different relationship with a family member than someone else in the family does. Her sense of community doesn’t require that everyone see each other in the same way.
Kristen: Yeah, I come from a small family and we still struggle with triangulation, so I can imagine the more folks there are, the harder it is.
I loved this thing from top to bottom, if I’m honest, and I just found the whole thing a world I could dive into and spend time in with glee. Was there anything that didn’t work for y’all?
Dabney: Well, there is one thing. Higgins’ women’s fiction is less romantic and sexual than her romances. In this book this makes the primary romance less grounded than I’d have wished. I could have used more love scenes between Emma and Miller in part because I think it would have made that relationship even more believable. Plus I like sex scenes ;).
Shannon: There definitely wasn’t a lot of sex, but I didn’t mind that. I loved the focus on the female relationships, and the bit of romance woven into the story was kind of an added bonus.
Dabney: I can see that. I wish it had been more than a bit. I love her romances and the love story in this book left me wanting more of it. But, I’m also always up for powerful female relationships and this book offers those in spades.
Shannon: At its core, this book feels like a parenting story. We’re shown a wide array of parenting styles, some more palatable than others. Emma shines in this arena, while Genevieve kind of flounders, especially when it comes to her son Clarke. As the two of you read this, did it feel like a parent-centered story, or did you pick out another central theme?
Kristen: That’s an interesting question, Shannon. I think I saw it broader than that, like it’s more about family and connections that are both given and forged. Dabney, what do you think?
Dabney: It’s a story about how the relationship between parents, children, and grandchildren are profoundly interdependent and what it takes to created and keep family. Higgins shines at showing how the most important aspect of familying is love–and this book is really about that.
Shannon: I love how you put that, Dabney. In more ways than one, love is a trademark of Higgins’ work. She pays homage to it in all its many forms, and I’m constantly in awe of the way she brings so many different kinds of love to life on the page.
Dabney: Yes. Whenever I read a Higgins book, I am reminded of how capacious the human heart is and how lucky we are that is so.
As far as grades go, this was a B+ read for me. I enjoyed it and it left me being glad to be alive–no small feat in 2019. What about you two?
Shannon: I think I’m going to go just above you, Dabney, and give it an A-. It was pretty close to perfect, definitely something I’m happy to recommend to fans of Ms. Higgins’ previous books as well as to those who might be new to her writing.
Kristen: It’s an A- for me too.