I received this book for free from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
This post contains affiliate links you can use to purchase the book. If you buy the book using that link, I will receive a small commission from the sale.Under the Influence by Joyce Maynard
Published by HarperCollins on February 23, 2016
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Women, Family Life, Thrillers, Suspense
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When Helen meets Swift and Ava Havilland at an art gallery opening, her life is at an all-time low. A DUI conviction caused her to lose her driver’s license and custody of her eight-year-old son, Oliver. Now she sees Ollie on Saturdays for bowling and laser tag and meals in fast-food restaurants, where his eyes stay glued to the screen of his portable gaming device. He hasn’t forgiven his mother for messing up their life. She’s got a dead-end job and goes on occasional dates, but spends most evenings at AA meetings. The Havillands change all that.
Ava and Swift are wealthy, charismatic philanthropists—passionate animal lovers and passionate lovers of each other, it seems. Their art-filled home is the setting for frequent over-the-top parties. Nobody talks about why Ava’s in a wheelchair, but her disability doesn’t keep her from bestowing kindness on the homeless and the helpless, and devising elaborate save-the-world projects. Though Ava specializes in rescuing dogs, this time she decides to rescue Helen. “We’re going to give you a life,” she announces.
The Havillands quickly become the center of Helen’s world, as she takes on jobs for them and joins their glamorous inner circle—dressing in Ava’s hand-me-downs, entertaining the couple with stories of disastrous dates, cataloging their art collection, sharing meals and increasingly intimate confidences.
Then Helen meets Elliot—a quiet, uncool accountant the Havillands dismiss as boring. Helen might be falling in love with him, but her new best friends disapprove—and cause Helen to distrust her own heart.
Most compelling, for Helen, is what her friendship with the Havillands has meant to her relationship with her son. Ollie has fallen under Swift’s spell; the lonely boy looks up to the larger-than-life man who treats him like a second son. And Swift has promised Helen the services of a high-powered attorney to help her regain custody.
Then tragedy strikes: Ollie witnesses a devastating accident at the Havillands’ lake house. Now Helen and Ollie must pay up for the generosity of Helen’s new friends. Or pay dearly if they refuse.
I have, of course, heard of Joyce Maynard before, but have never read a book she has written. When I saw Under the Influence, I was excited to finally get a chance to read one of her books. And I am glad I did. At the heart of the tale is Helen, a down on her luck divorced mother, who loses custody of her son after a DUI. At the lowest point of her life, in comes a couple, Ava and Swift, and they bring the companionship and personal bond she has been searching for. Helen’s life is now seemingly complete and her new friends run every aspect of her days. Even after she meets a man who is perfect for her, the disapproval of her friends makes her turn away. Then her son becomes enamored with Swift and in one instance everything Helen has fought for could be gone.
Joyce Maynard is a bestseller for a reason. Her writing is crisp and she can pack a lot of emotion in a few words. She can insert you into a character’s mind with ease and you feel like you know and understand them. The pacing had some parts that dragged a little, but they were quickly absorbed into the rest of the story. The world created was real, Helen lived a very real life, and while Swift and Ava were decidedly over the top, they fit in their roles perfectly. The characters were the highlight. Helen ebbed from manic highs to tragic lows in her life and we are able to sit front row center for them. Swift and Ava were perfectly crafted in their oddity and you could sense the undercurrent of just not right in them.
Under the Influence is a one sitting read in the best of ways. Quick and sharp, it was a definite page turner. I enjoyed the story and the writing, and suggest you go get a copy of Under the Influence for yourself. I am happy I finally got the chance to experience Maynard for myself and will now check and see what other books of hers my library has.
Favorite lines – I think we were all grateful to have touched down for a few hours, like weary travelers washed up by good fortune on that remote and glittering shore.
Biggest cliché – They are my friends, so they must want the best for me.
Have you read Under the Influence, or added it to your TBR?
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- 2016 New Release Challenge
- Mount TBR Reading Challenge
- Netgalley & Edelweiss Reading Challenge
- The Goodreads Challenge