The Half of It
Grade : B+

What a fascinating mixed bag of a book this is. The Half of It is a warm-hearted dramady for grown-ups who have been around the block and know that the block stretches many more miles beyond where it began. It’s fascinating in its imperfections, but some organizational choices put this one below a DIK for me.

Helen Iannucchi Spencer is a grandma with three adult children and a fairly loveless marriage behind her. She has many regrets under her belt, and at least one of those regrets stems from a night she spent in the woods with her teenage confidant and former on/off boyfriend Cal Crosby. That night they got so lost after venturing to a cave for a private talk and a first time encounter – and which led to Cal giving Helen chlamydia and their parents - and his girlfriend - being infuriated with them. The chlamydia and Helen’s perceived infertility result, in their own ways, in the aforementioned loveless marriage. When Helen meets Cal by chance in a local park while they’re both entertaining their grandchildren, a lot of old wounds are reopened.

Also on Helen’s mind: the travails of her three children. There’s Barbara, married to ‘gentle giant’ Cormac, who owns Cormac Confectionary, a bakery where Helen keeps the books. They adopted Lana, but have been battling infertility to deliver a biological child. Barbara wants Helen to sell her house and move closer to her and her husband, but Helen wavers at the decision.

Grumpy manchild Danny is a globetrotting but unsuccessful adventurer and documentary filmmaker who’s never put down roots and accepts constant cash infusions from Helen. And solid-and-steady Sam is romantically lovelorn, estranged from his long-term girlfriend Kiersten, who is reluctant to marry him.

Cal has a complicated relationship with his daughter, Janel, who has produced a frenetically active toddler named Logan and a baby named Mackenzie, and also founded a chain of whiskey bars that went under during the pandemic.

Cal and Helen were friends once upon a time; he was the big man on campus, she was the loner athlete, and they both ran on the track team. It might have become more, but teenage awkwardness and that night drove them apart and led them to marry other people. Cal’s marriage is currently on the rocks, and Helen has been a widow for years.

Their chance meeting sparks Cal to ask Helen for a second chance at friendship. But doing that means confronting a lot of ugliness and a whole lot of bad memories. Can they salvage anything from the wreck they’ve made of their lives?

A couple of plotting choices made me rank this book at a B, but that doesn’t mean The Half of It is a bad novel. It’s easy to love Helen, a first-generation American whose parents took thirteen years to conceive her, a woman who tries to help her kids but often ends up being a busybody by mistake and an enabler at worse. Now in her fifties she’s making a lot of life changes. Those changes aren’t all about Cal; she reconnects with her best friend from high school, whom she dropped after a big fight related to her first marriage. Helen is imperfectly imperfect, and her kids are the same. I also have to give a hat tip to Juliette Fay for the way she captures mid-state, medium town Massachusetts and all of its beauties and mendacities.

Cal has to make amends for the terrible things he did during his younger years, and for some readers his atonement might not be enough. But he’s flawed enough to be human. His relationship with Helen is strong and carefully developed, and they make sense as friends and lovers.

It’s also easy to love the way the book portrays the thorny and complex relationships Cal and Helen have with the past. The author initially does a good job weaving between the present day, flashbacks to Cal and Helen’s shared teenage years, and Helen’s marriage to her late husband, Jim. Unfortunately, at one point we learn something important through a conversation between Cal and Helen, then immediately we get a flashback that explicitly shows us exactly how it happened, with no new details. The story could have used a little bit of narrative economy.

This won’t be a book for those who hate infidelity, specifically emotional infidelity. And it won’t be a novel for anyone avoiding pandemic talk. And, most importantly, it’s not a novel for those looking for a happily ever after ending. But The Half of It is warm and worth a read.

Buy it at: Amazon, Audible or your local bookshop

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Reviewed by Lisa Fernandes
Grade : B+
Book Type: Women's Fiction

Sensuality: Subtle

Review Date : April 10, 2023

Publication Date: 04/2023

Review Tags: Massachusetts

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Lisa Fernandes

Lisa Fernandes is a writer, reviewer and recapper who lives somewhere on the East Coast. Formerly employed by Firefox.org and Next Projection, she also currently contributes to Women Write About Comics. Read her blog at http://thatbouviergirl.blogspot.com/, follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/thatbouviergirl or contribute to her Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/MissyvsEvilDead or her Ko-Fi at ko-fi.com/missmelbouvier
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