Actress-turned-author Gina Sorell’s second novel, The Wise Women, will be released by Harper on 4/5/2022. (I rec’d an advanced copy through a Goodreads giveaway. Thank you!) It’s a hug of an “everything works out in the end” story about mothers, daughters and sisters. There were some missed opportunities in developing the fragile and complex relationships, but it’s a comforting, feel good Hallmark movie of read and where I would have preferred more flesh to the story would have taken it out of that realm.
The “Wise” women are Wendy Wise, former Ask Abby/Miss Manners type columnist, and her two daughters, Barb and Clementine. When the novel opens, the youngest of the two daughters has just learned that her husband had lied to her and instead of purchasing the home she’d given him a down payment for, he’d invested in his own business. Clementine is horrified to learn she’s been renting the home of her dreams for two years and is on the brink of eviction because the rent hasn’t been paid. She’d let her Peter Pan of a selfish man boy husband manage their finances on the advice of Wendy Wise. (Wendy didn’t know she was giving her daughter advice.)
Barb, the older sister who had essentially raised Clementine when their mother was trying to build up her brand, has her own issues. She’d loaned her sister money for the house, she’s over-extended her finances, she’s questioning her role as a real estate developer as she watches her work destroy the individuality and uniqueness of neighborhoods in favor of cold high rises, and she’s concerned her girlfriend is cheating on her – again.
Wendy has been “let go” by the magazine in favor of younger voices, and she’s married husband number three and moved to Florida. Her children have no idea.
It’s a novel of secrets and misunderstandings. There’s a particular memory that lingers in Barb’s brain of being left home with a sick Clementine while their mother went out. Barb had to call 911 and the police were almost dispatched. Wendy also remembers that night. She remembers the work party and the promotion and all the battles she had to fight to be successful enough to stand on her own and care for her children. Much of the presentation of Wendy is a caricature, but the moments that scratch beneath the surface to show her fears and sacrifices are tenderly wrought.
The characters of Dominic, Jill, and Samantha could have been better utilized. The Sunny and Todd drama was unnecessary and distracting. And Seth was far too cliched. I wish we could get away from the idea that when a woman’s marriage is over, she has to immediately get into another relationship. I thought the novel was going to hold fast to Clementine becoming independent and unafraid (especially after the focus on her mother’s second and third marriages) and it comes close, but then there’s Seth. Perfectly harmless and safe, but unnecessary; she could have had her happy ever after without the promise of him.
The cover is stunning with its design and colors, but it’s a complete misrepresentation of the novel. I think a cutesy illustrative cover like The Kiss Quotient with the three women (and a treehouse, lip balm, the Wise books, etc.) would have been more fitting.
In short, it’s a quick, feel-good read.