As a seasoned bookworm that loves nothing more than devouring books in their droves; few things are better than finding an author I adore and then making it my mission to read their entire back catalogue. While I came across Joyce Maynard a couple of years ago when I read Labour Day – a subtle yet brilliant tale that was made into a film with Kate Winslet – it wasn’t until I read her latest book; a memoir called The Best of Us about her late husband Jim’s battle with pancreatic cancer, that I realised just how much I loved her writing. Both her prose and sense of place really swept me away, and so when I visited Venice Beach over the weekend and my boyfriend said he’d buy me a new book from the lovely beach front bookstore, I knew exactly what I was looking for.
After reviewing The Best of Us a week or so ago, many other readers came forward to say that they were fans of Maynard’s work, and a number of people recommend I read Under the Influence. And so despite having already packed two books for my trip down the Californian coast, the one I started with was Maynard’s.
The tale of a friendship gone sour – something that certainly resonated with me – Under the Influence is a story about Helen, who, after a DUI conviction loses custody of her seven year-old son, Ollie. While once an aspiring art photographer, faced with mountains of legal debt Helen now makes ends meet taking portraits of school children and working for a caterer, while her evenings are spent alone, perusing online dating sites.
Soon after losing custody of Ollie, Helen meets glamorous couple Ava and Swift Havilland, who take her under their wing and open the doors to their fabulous, fun-filled home. Vulnerable and lonely, Helen is captivated by the couple who are wealthy and generous and have the kind of loving relationship Helen never had and wishes for herself.
Without giving too much of the plot away, however, things are not on they seem as the surface, and the more intertwined their lives become, the further Helen has to fall.
Compelling and captivating with rich character development throughout, Under the Influence weaves themes of friendship, control, intimacy, family, and parenthood and builds to a climatic ending that makes the reader ponder the difference between fleeting friendships and true blue friends.