After reading the Desert Isle Keeper Review of the author’s second novel, Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married, and reading the raves about Watermelon on our Reviews Message Board, I had high hopes for it. It’s taken a few days of mulling the book over to figure out why I initially told my husband, “It’s a pretty good book, but it’s not as good as it could have been.” Then, on my way home from running errands this evening, the proverbial lightbulb went off over my head. Although this is one of those hybrid contemporary novels/women’s fiction/romances, the romantic component simply didn’t work for me. Here’s why.
On the day that Claire gave birth to Kate, her husband James informed her he was having an affair with another woman from their building and was leaving her. Had this first-person narrative style not been so wittily bitchy, the book would have hit the wall immediately. But since the breezy manner was so clever, I kept going. Even as Claire must leave from her London home to go back to her family’s house in Dublin, the wit with which she describes the horror of being alone with her baby was so strong that I nearly laughed out loud.
When she returns to the home of her childhood, I was enthralled. Her family was so thoroughly hysterical I couldn’t wait to read more about it, even though Claire herself was in personality melt-down mode mixed with “the baby blues” (feeling she looked like a watermelon didn’t help either). There was the beautiful barracuda Helen, the hippie chick Anna, the mother who couldn’t cook, didn’t clean, and wasn’t particularly motherly, and the father who cleaned the house, earned the money, but was thoroughly whipped by all the women in his house.
On the same day Claire gets her act together, she decides to cook dinner for the family – the lack of cooking ability gene skips a generation in their family. Besides getting cleaned up and dressed in something other than her mother’s hideous nightgowns, she cooks pasta pesto, but not too well, based on her mother’s request, so as not to give her family’s tastebuds the chance to latch onto something that isn’t microwavable. Helen brings home for dinner the handsome Adam, who is between she and Helen in age. In other words, she thinks he’s too young for her.
Adam is interested, both in Claire and her baby Kate. She’s interested in him, and takes her mother’s advice to pursue him even though Helen seems interested in him as well. Her mother believes it would be good for Helen to be disappointed in love for once, she is rather a bitch, you know. Following a wonderful dinner that Adam prepares for her, they do the deed in a manner which is not explicitly descriptive but very cleverly written. When she returns home that night and informs her parents that she’s been “having sex with Adam,” they tell her her James has flown in to see her.
I won’t give away any more of the plotline except to say that Claire must make a decision about her life. Does she go back to James or try to forge a new path for herself? Although author Keyes makes a valiant effort at showing us Claire’s growth through her choices, it was unnerving to read a book where, essentially, the past five years of a lead character’s life were a mistake, and a mistake that resulted in the birth of a child. Yes, there is a happy ending of sorts, albeit convuluted and fairly unbelievable, but it made me sad that she had apparently made such a bad decision on her choice of a man. The change in James from all-round good guy to self-righteous selfish bastard didn’t ring true. Either he was like that all along and she missed it, or what?
It’s the “or what” that ruined Watermelon for me, reminding me of phone calls with friends married to good men who, seemingly overnight, turn into bad men. Perhaps because this happened fairly recently to a friend and colleague, this bit of reality ruined the fantasy of Claire finding her soulmate in Adam. And though there’s much to recommend about this novel, it may leave a sour taste in the mouth.