The Good Woman

Jane Porter
September 2012, Women's Fiction
Berkley, $15.00, 368 pages, Amazon ASIN 0425253007

Grade: D-
Sensuality: Subtle

This review contains spoilers.

Even with my strong feelings about adultery, I can read and accept it within certain circumstances. Some authors have the ability to create viable shades of grey that make me think, okay it is wrong, but I can understand why it happened. Ms. Porter is not one of them, at least not in this book.

At forty-two Mary Margaret Roberts (known as Meg) is dissatisfied with her life. After nineteen years together – seventeen of those years married - her relationship with her husband is stagnant. She loves him dearly but he doesn’t seem to be interested in her or make her feel sexy. Sex is so mundane – he just rolls on top of her and does his thing, not caring if she is satisfied or not. And she is tired of having all of the responsibility of the house and kids. He acts like the household magically runs itself. And then there is her family – as the oldest she has always had more responsibility than the others. It is difficult to live up to the expectation of always being the good one. But of course she is. Putting her family and her husband first, and then her relatives, is what a good person does.

Her employers Craig and Chad Hallahan make her feel appreciated though. In fact Chad tried once to work his magic charm on her, smiling at her with his sexy smile and really listening to her. She set him straight, quickly advising him that being happily married renders her immune to his allure. Although now, repeating that mantra doesn’t seem to be working.

Hoping for a relaxing getaway with her sisters, she is appalled to find that her younger sister Brianna has joined the group. Brianna failed to watch a child Meg was babysitting while Meg ran a quick errand, allowing her to almost drown in the family pool, creating an untenable fracture in their relationship. It doesn’t help that Bree loves to mock her Saint Mary Margaret attitude. As if the weekend can’t get any worse, the sisters find out that their mother’s cancer is no longer in remission. In fact it has metastasized to her liver and lymph nodes. And her mother just plans to let nature take its course. With all this on her mind, she takes her first business trip to London with Chad. And this time she doesn’t have the reserve to fight the way he makes her feel alive again – feel like a woman again.

Meg is one of the most unlikeable characters I have come across in a long time. Along with the conscientiousness and responsibility of being the first born, the author adds into the mix Catholic guilt and martyrdom. “Nothing she ever did was quite right.” The first portion of the book is all about Meg’s inability to set boundaries or ask for what she needs. And the second is of her wearing a hair shirt and a scarlet A.

The author casts doubts on the compatibility of Meg and her husband. They had problems from the beginning but the reasons for Meg cheating are so clichéd. Meg makes a feeble attempt to rectify some of these issues. But the way it is written is laughable. She shakes her husband awake, and says something like “want to . . .you know.” She has one discussion about the inequality of running the household.

This is the first book in the series about the Brennan sisters. And the issues facing each are straight from women’s fiction 101. Sarah, the youngest, is married to an aging major-league baseball player who has already cheated on her once. She spends her time beating herself up because she loves her husband so much that she forgave his infidelity and everyone knows smart women kick men like that to the curve. Kit has spent ten years waiting for her significant other to finally make an honest woman of her. After getting up the courage to talk to him about her need for commitment and children he tells her he’s not interested and breaks up with her. Brianna the former wild child seems like the only character not mired in a poor me quagmire. However she is abrasive and almost militant.

If you are looking for a truly happy ending, then it isn’t here. It wouldn’t surprise me if in future books the author did an about face.

What does really surprise me is the change in my opinion of the author’s books. I really liked Odd Mom Out and Mrs. Perfect but have found her later books to be filled with egocentric and narcissistic heroines. We all have our pity parties, but having that disguised as self-growth is unappealing and overwrought.

Read at your own risk because I am not able to recommend this book.

-- Leigh Davis

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