The Underside Of Joy

The Underside Of Joy by Sere Prince Alverson - 307 pages
Book Blurb:
Set against the backdrop of redwood forests and shimmering vineyards, Seré Prince Halverson's compelling debut tells the story of two women, bound by an unspeakable loss, who each claims to be the mother of the same two children.
To Ella Beene, happiness means living in the northern California river town of Elbow with her husband, Joe, and his two young children. Yet one summer day Joe breaks his own rule--never turn your back on the ocean--and a sleeper wave strikes him down, drowning not only the man but his many secrets.
For three years, Ella has been the only mother the kids have known and has believed that their biological mother, Paige, abandoned them. But when Paige shows up at the funeral, intent on reclaiming the children, Ella soon realizes there may be more to Paige and Joe's story. "Ella's the best thing that's happened to this family," say her Italian-American in-laws, for generations the proprietors of a local market. But their devotion quickly falters when the custody fight between mother and stepmother urgently and powerfully collides with Ella's quest for truth.
The Underside of Joy is not a fairy-tale version of stepmotherhood pitting good Ella against evil Paige, but an exploration of the complex relationship of two mothers. Their conflict uncovers a map of scars--both physical and emotional--to the families' deeply buried tragedies, including Italian internment camps during World War II and postpartum psychosis.
My Review: 3.5 stars
Kramer v. Kramer for mom v. stepmom is the basis for this surprisingly quiet book. It’s about what happens when the birth mother comes back for her kids after a three year abandonment. Beyond the major plot line there is a large undercurrent of secrets of all kinds, as well as what defines a family, the seriousness of postpartum depression and then the ultimate feeling of hope and moving forward. The book is hyped to have a deep history about Italian internment camps but in my opinion that was glossed over too neatly. The town of Elbow that the author described was rich in detail and character. Overall, a nice read and an interesting take on motherhood that I hadn’t considered before.
Quotes I liked:
-“I wanted children so badly that the want spread itself over me and took me hostage; it tied me up in it so that my days became as dark and knotted as I imagined my uterus to be: a scary, uninviting hovel.”

- “I thought about calling someone, but I’d used everyone up.”

- “Anger is the easiest- of every fucking feeling I’m having right now. Anger is a breeze. Compared to the rest.”
- “Mom, of course I knew. The way kids always know.”
Tags: Fiction, 2012, Mothers/Daughters

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