Lucy Bloom gets a job working for a famous eccentric artist, Marva Meier Rios, whose house is full to the brim with hoarded objects. Marva starts out as an uncooperative boss, making Lucy's job very difficult. Lucy persists however because she wants the bonus that comes with a successful completion of the project within the specified time, which turns out to be Marva's 65th birthday. The first mystery is why Marva wants to employ Lucy given that she seems to reluctant to get rid of her stuff, and then there's a question about why there is a deadline. Lucy is curious too why Marva's son is so cold both to her and his mother. One might think it is all to do with her hoarding, but it turns out there is more to the story.
Not only is Lucy's work cut out for her with Marva: she also is preoccupied by her son Ash, who at 19 years old has just entered rehab for drug addiction. Lucy has had to sell nearly all her possessions and her house in order to pay for his treatment, and that seems a bad investment since the prospects of it doing any good are slim. Not much is going well in her life. Her marriage to Ash's father ended 12 years ago, and now her relationship with her boyfriend is also over, because of the stresses caused by Ash's drug problem. This new job working for Marva is meant to set her up begin sorting out her life again, and maybe even finding some romance, but the path to happiness will turn out to be hard to ascend and it includes many U turns.
Smolinski's novel is equal parts drama, comedy and romance. Listening to the unabridged audiobook performed by Xe Sands is enjoyable: Sands keeps the tone measured and slightly ironic even when the characters are in full emotional turmoil. Lucy is a likeable narrator and readers will be on her side all the way through. The combination of Lucy's personal worries with the revelations about Marva's life as an artist and a mother works surprisingly well, and Marva gets to deliver some great wisdom about addiction and how to respond to addicts, which makes this book thought-provoking and more interesting than most novels featuring addiction.
© 2012 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York