A False Sense of Well Being

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WINNER OF THE GEORGIA AUTHOR OF THE YEAR AWARD FOR FIRST NOVEL

“Braselton’s confident first novel is [a] depiction of love on the rocks in the New South that combines small town charm with major league...
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A False Sense of Well Being

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Overview

WINNER OF THE GEORGIA AUTHOR OF THE YEAR AWARD FOR FIRST NOVEL

“Braselton’s confident first novel is [a] depiction of love on the rocks in the New South that combines small town charm with major league angst. . . . A down-home Proustian recherché search . . . [An] entertaining, rueful account of an apparently ‘normal’ marriage.”
–Los Angeles Times

“Simply extraordinary. [This novel] has the wit and modern comedy of Nora Ephron and the literary force of Flannery O’Connor.”
–KAYE GIBBONS
Author of Ellen Foster

At thirty-eight, Jessie Maddox has a comfortable life in Glenville, Georgia, with the most responsible husband in the world. But after the storybook romance, “happily ever after” never came. Now Jessie is left to wonder: Why can’t she stop picturing herself as the perfect grieving widow? As Jessie dives headlong into her midlife crisis, she is joined by a colorful cast of eccentrics. There’s her best friend Donna, who is having a wild adulterous affair with a younger man; Wanda McNabb, the sweet-natured grandmother who is charged with killing her husband; Jessie’s younger sister Ellen, who was born to be a guest on Jerry Springer; their mother, who persistently crosses the dirty words out of library books; and of course the stuffed green headless duck. . . .

When a trip home to the small town of her childhood raises more questions than it answers, Jessie is forced to face the startling truth head-on–and confront the tragedy that has shadowed her heart and shaken her faith in love . . . and the future.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“This may be the best first novel I’ve ever read.”
–ANNE RIVERS SIDDONS

“With characters who touch the heart and dialogue that rings true, Braselton does a masterful job of telling Jessie’s story in this warm, moving, and remarkably accomplished first novel.”
Booklist
Kaye Gibbons
Simply extraordinary. A False Sense of Well-Being has the wit and modern comedy of Nora Ephron and the literary force of Flannery O’Connor.
Lee Smith
I thoroughly and absolutely loved this novel. . . . Well structured, well paced, outrageously funny but deadly serious, A False Sense of Well-Being hits a nerve–a literary work that has the possibility of being very popular, especially with women. Braselton is an astute social commentator with a remarkable and accomplished debut. She has a genius for the offhand comment that cuts right to the core of life. Gutsy, moving, and memorable.
Anne Rivers Siddons
This may be the best first novel I’ve ever read.
Publishers Weekly
In this amiable expos? of a genteel enclave of the Deep South, where marriages disintegrate into strained truces, 38-year-old Jessie Maddox finds herself imagining all the ways her faultlessly upright but mind-numbingly boring banker husband, Turner, might plausibly die. A fall in the shower? A freak explosion in the basement? Anything would do. In lieu of murderous action, Jessie seeks the same false sense of well-being she prescribes to her psychiatric patients at the Glenville Wellness Center, like Wanda McNabb, a homemaker who actually has killed her husband. Then Jessie's best friend in Glenville Meadows, a suburban subdivision full of "Southern Living wives," confesses that she is involved in a steamy affair, and Jessie finds herself desperate for any change at all. In an effort to recapture her youth, she journeys to her hometown in Randolph Gap, Ala., where her mother a maker of macram? handbags and a fervent evangelical churchgoer still keeps house for her long-suffering father, and her wild sister, Ellen, is visiting with her son, Justin, and a full menagerie of birds. By contrast, dull Turner starts looking better. Finally, the gritty realities of smalltown limitations and universal disappointments steer the story away from a Thelma and Louise finale toward a more realistic but no less dramatic and ironic ending. Braselton's depiction of the plight of restless women and her brilliant descriptions of sheltered suburbia and smalltown life are delivered with scathing wit. (Oct. 2) Forecast: Blurbs from Anne Rivers Siddons, Kaye Gibbons, Lee Smith and Terry Kay suggest the slant and appeal of this novel, and should do much to capture readers' attention. An eight-city author tourand national print advertising will help. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This debut novel by a Georgia writer comes with much-deserved praise from authors such as Kaye Gibbons, Anne Rivers Siddons, and Lee Smith. After 11 years of marriage and four miscarriages, Jessie Maddox is puzzled by thoughts and dreams of her husband Turner's death. Why would she want her kind (if somewhat boring) husband dead? Through women she knows, the book explores the ways wives seek happiness, from adultery to violence. Trying to understand her staid life as Turner's wife and a member of the local Episcopal church, Jessie visits her rural Alabama home. There she begins to reconcile the past and the present with the help of the Holy Rock church, her fundamentalist mother, and her hell-raising sister. Braselton's characters and situations evoke sympathetic laughter and provide ample insight into the human condition. This is regional fiction at its best. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/01.] Rebecca Sturm Kelm, Northern Kentucky Univ. Lib., Highland Heights Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Southern families and crumbling marriages are center stage in a capable if routine debut. Braselton launches the story with quirky comic flair by reporting Jessie's compulsive fantasies about how her husband might meet an accidental death. Turner's great crime is his predictability; he's a nice enough fellow for a banker, but life with an upright, stable do-gooder has apparently killed any passion Jessie felt for him. Marriage to Turner brought this native of rural Randolph Gap, Alabama, across the state line to tidy Glenville, Georgia, into a tailored, planned community and a faux-Georgian house. Jessie's upward mobility, though applauded by her sanctimonious mother, has left her wondering what life is all about. It doesn't help that her best friend is having an adulterous affair with a young department-store salesclerk, or that new client Wanda McNabb (Jessie is a mental-health worker) has recently killed her husband in self-defense. In an attempt to gather her thoughts, Jessie, approaching 40 and despondent about her inability to conceive a child, goes home to Randolph Gap for a weekend. If solutions don't arise from the visit, at least she gets to witness her mother crashing her Lincoln Town Car into the steps of the Holy Rock Church. As is often the case in real life, actually taking the trip down memory lane is less satisfying than thinking about it, and what Jessie gets in Randolph Gap is a hangover from a night on the town with her sister (having just left her husband, nympho Ellen is also staying with their parents), an escapade involving a large stuffed duck, and a crying jag over the grave of her first boyfriend. Dissatisfaction abounds: all the main players are disappointedwith their husbands, their lives, the prospect of a future that can be called from the sidelines. Braselton's too-cohesive theme inevitably falls a little flat as a promising start sinks into familiar terrain. A solid tale of country-fried suburban woes with few surprises. Author tour
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345443120
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/1/2002
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 5.47 (w) x 8.26 (h) x 0.82 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeanne Braselton was born and raised in Georgia. She is the adopted daughter of a poet who was designated chief of the Cherokee Nation. While working as a journalist for the Rome News Tribune, she won numerous Georgia Press Association awards. A False Sense of Well-Being is her first novel.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Read an Excerpt

Dear friends in Christ, here in the presence of Almighty God, let us kneel in silence, and with penitent and obedient hearts confess our sins, so that we may obtain forgiveness by his infinite goodness and mercy.

Confession of Sin The Book of Common Prayer

I was married eleven years before I started imagining how different life could be if my husband were dead. Beginning that year, and not, to my recollection, prompted by any overt unkindness or sudden disruption of affection, images of random damage, of events more simple and unpredictable than murder, invaded my dreams both sleeping and awake. The more I tried not to think about it, to purge these worrisome ideas out of my head, the louder my unconscious mind wailed. When I woke in the sheet-twisted dark and found myself pasted to the body of my very real husband, his whimpering snore as high-pitched as a cat’s, it was a bitter comfort. The familiar smell of him on the pillows, a pungent mix of his daily dousings of cologne and hair tonics, seeped into my pores with all the nauseating effects of a virus. I spent my nights, and an embarrassing number of days, picturing how I would react, what plans I would make, when misfortune cast me in a new role: that of grieving widow.

I would see him rounding the curve of the old highway, eyes closing, driving head-on into someone else’s headlights. Stumbling into the line of fire during a convenience-store robbery. Stepping off the curb to be dragged under the wheels of a bus. When he fell asleep in front of the television late at night, head tilted backward over his chair, I would see him strangled that way, his breath cut off in mid-snore, a large bubble of exhaled air dancing cartoon-style in front of his face.

Every day I imagined some new way for it to happen. I saw the harmless objects of our ordinary lives turning against him, his body betraying him in one violent, irretrievable moment.

He’d crack his skull on the shower wall while reaching for a towel.

He’d try to light the pilot on the furnace and trigger a freak explosion.

He’d stumble over a child’s bicycle in a neighbor’s driveway and snap his neck.

Once, when I was turning my key in the kitchen door, my left arm balancing a bag of groceries, I found myself thinking, He could be dead inside this house, in our bed, and I wouldn’t know it.

Sometimes he would fall as he made the climb toward the sixth hole at Glenville Meadows, his heart squeezing in upon itself with a final cholesterol-clogged pang, his long, rigid body landing like a toppled game piece on the freshly mown fairway. The last thing he’d see is the dimpled ball sailing skyward toward the green, where it rides the hillside on waves of light and dark, hopelessly out of his reach.

The first time I make my confession I know I’m making a big mistake, as if I’ve taken the wrong exit off the interstate and am barreling full speed down rain-slick, unlit streets with no on-ramp or telephone booth in sight. It’s a Saturday, the day my next-door neighbor Donna Lindsey and I reserve for what we affectionately call our “suicide strolls.” At 6 a.m. sharp on most Saturdays, Donna and I meet at the boxwood hedge separating our two lawns—lawns kept green, well-trimmed, and dandelion-free by the Lawn Doctor, not our husbands—and set out along the bicycle paths that wind around the cookie-cutter Georgians and mock Tudors in our thoroughly modern and fitness-friendly subdivision. Donna and I begin our walk by streetlight and moonlight, leaving our homes bundled in sweat suits and windbreakers, stealthy as teenagers sneaking out past curfew. Much of our route is uphill until we reach the cul-de-sac where, in a mirror version of our own cul-de-sac, Phase Four of the Heritage Knoll development ends, so we usually talk only on the way back to our respective homes, when we can catch our breath.

Donna and I swing our arms purposefully and tell ourselves we aren’t getting older but healthier. We wave to the other, younger wives who jog at a faster clip, the cheeks of their aerobicized size-six butts barely jiggling. These women all carry or strap to their arms and legs reflective devices that each weigh five pounds or more, and when they trot past us, graceful as butterflies, pores freshly scrubbed and cucumber-soothed and without the slightest hint of perspiration, one has the distinct impression that they might, at any moment, take flight if they were not weighted down so carefully.

We keep walking, dreaming of the day when we can look just like them, when we can prance into Rich’s Department Store and buy identical pairs of red silk running shorts in a size six, completed, of course, by red silk cutoff T-shirts that show off our tanned and liposuctioned midriffs. We tell ourselves we’re happy with our own less-than-flawless bodies in case our plan doesn’t work, and I’m guessing it probably won’t, so until then we resent the presence of these other wives for making us want it so badly.

It is during today’s walk, on the return trip down a particularly steep hill, that Donna tells me she’s having an affair with a salesman in the department store where she works part time, that it’s been going on for two months, and that she needs me to tell her husband David we’re going shopping next Tuesday after work. David will never even ask me about it, she points out a little too enthusiastically, so it isn’t like I’ll actually have to lie for her, but she wants to warn me just in case a lie is necessary. She also hints that it wouldn’t be wise for me to be seen in my yard between the hours of 5 and 8 p.m. on Tuesday since, quite obviously, I can’t be at the Glenville Meadows Mall with her and trying to resuscitate my ailing geraniums at the same time.

“I’m sleeping with that young guy in menswear.”

That’s actually how she breaks the news. She says it matter-of-factly, as if she’s just told me, “I’m painting my kitchen blue.”

I remember that Donna made a point of introducing me to him a week or so earlier when I stopped by the mall to pick her up for lunch. When I arrived, I found him leaning over her jewelry counter, two fingers looped through a display of freshwater pearl bracelets.

His name is Perry Ferguson, and on the day we met he wore stylish burgundy suspenders over a cream-colored button-down broadcloth shirt and a pair of neatly pressed black gabardine trousers, and he had a lock of blond hair that, despite his efforts to slick it into place, kept falling over one of his eyes. He did, I noticed, wear a wedding ring. And he’s young. At least ten years younger than Donna is my guess, which means he’s maybe fifteen years younger than me. His leaning over her counter, touching those bracelets the way he did, was hardly the innocent gesture it had seemed.

I can’t think of a thing to say. This is news I do not want to hear.

As we walk, we pass 1980s-style Victorians and country ranches, houses we’ve visited with our husbands for impromptu dinner parties and Neighborhood Watch–sponsored backyard barbecues, houses where the owners spend weeks searching antique stores for the perfect armoire and wouldn’t dare refinish it. A lawn mower cranks somewhere nearby, a clear violation of the 10-4 rules. The people on this street must mow their own lawns. The Lawn Doctor knows the rules.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Reading Group Guide

1. The novel opens with Jessie Maddox having fantasies of her husband's untimely death, either by fate or by accident. What has happened in her life to cause this? What do you think she would do, and how would she react, if her fantasies were to come true? Do you ever have similar thoughts about those you love? If so, examine the way your innermost thoughts often conflict with what you believe you want in life.

2. Jessie is the one telling her story. What are the strengths and weaknesses of Jessie's first-person narration? Do you think she's able to remain objective when discussing her unhappiness, or when describing her family and friends? How would the novel be different if it were narrated by her husband Turner?

3. Jessie talks about wanting the perfect marriage and the perfect home. She subscribes to House Beautiful, Southern Living, and
Psychology Today, trying to copy decorating ideas and lifestyle tips. She joins the Glenville Society Cotillion, and she and her husband are members of the local country club. Discuss how
Jessie is influenced by what she reads in books and magazines, or sees in movies, and how her expectations of love and marriage may be unrealistic. Do you know people who do the same thing?
How has she, as she admits, worked to create the life she always dreamed of having? How much of Jessie's dilemma do you believe is based on her desire to keep up with what society expects of her?

4. We know Turner only from the details Jessie reveals, and from the few scenes where he appears. What do you think of him as a husband,
and what about Turner hasn't Jessie told us? Do you believe he loves Jessie? What could he be doing to help her through this crisis? Do you think he realizes how unhappy Jessie is? Consider reading Gustave Flaubert's classic novel Madame Bovary, and discuss the similarities and the differences between the characters and the plots of Madame Bovary and A False Sense of Well Being.

5. Is Jessie experiencing a typical midlife crisis? If so, what do you believe she should be doing to work through it? If not, what do you think triggered the wave of self-doubt and self-examination she's having? Discuss any time in your life when you may have felt the same way.

6. The novel uses passages from The Book of Common Prayer to introduce certain chapters. Why do you think the author chose The
Book of Common Prayer
, and what is the significance of each passage to the story that follows? Do you think Jessie, or any of the characters, find any comfort in the passages and prayers that are presented?

7. As a social worker at a mental health clinic, Jessie talks about the power of confession, and wonders if her clients are helped by telling her their secrets. Do you believe confession, as the saying goes, is good for the soul? How do you feel about Jessie as a therapist?
Do you think she's helped by the confessions she makes to her friends and family? Discuss how the power of confession is the novel's central theme.

8. Unlike many contemporary novels, in which the male characters are the ones making bad decisions, having affairs, or leaving home, it's the women in this novel who are the ones doing all the misbehaving. What is the significance of this? Discuss the choices these women make and how these choices affect their lives. Are the women who are having affairs or running away from home behaving, in a sense, like men? Do you believe--as does the self-help writer that Jessie listens to on tape--that men and women want the same things but have trouble communicating their wants and needs to each other? Discuss the changing roles of women over the past few decades, and how this has affected the traditional ideas of marriage and family.

9. Jessie and her friend Donna have different ways of looking at things, especially marriage. Jessie says, in fact, that she feels like she can live vicariously through Donna, because of Donna's affair

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 7, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Great story!

    Well, the very first line in the book had me hooked and laughing. I was expecting a more humorous novel, but I really did enjoy it very much. I would recommend it to my friends for sure! I may just have to read another book by this author.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2002

    DISCOVER this new writer!

    B&N customers, and all book lovers: Discover this new writer & you won't regret it! I received this book as a gift (after going through a midlife crisis of my own I guess my friends thought it'd cheer me up), and couldn't put it down. Yes, it's a "Southern" novel, but it's one of the NEW South, where suburbs are like suburbs anywhere in the country, and the middle class heroine JEssie -- who thought she had it all ... great house, great husband, great country club membership -- begins to rethink what it is she really wants out of life. This novel will speak to anyone who's seeking a purpose in her life, and a reason for living. I've told all my friends about this great new book & they'll be telling their friends. TIP: It's a great read for any book club. :-)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 18, 2001

    Wonderful from the first line

    This wonderful novel grabs the reader from the opening line: 'I was married eleven years before I started imagining how different life could be if my husband were dead,' and from there flows with the seeming effortlessness that's the mark of a masterful writer. Family and death are two subjects never far from the hearts of Southerners, and they are an integral part of the plot as Jessie Maddox copes with her mid-life crisis. Ultimately, this is a book about life, about how we invent our lives, screw them up, repair them and go on living. It is wise, tenderhearted, and laugh-out loud funny. Fans of Southern fiction wil find a new standard set here with this sharp-eyed depiction of the modern South, where perfect suburbs of mansionettes are just a short jaunt on the Interstate from places where it's still possible to go skinny-dipping or die an untimely death while hunting drunk. The secondary characters are dead-on funny without being afflicted by the extravagant tackiness that afflicts so much writing set in the South. The story of Jessie and her search for a sense of well-being is universal, though, and will appeal to anyone who has counted her blessings and wondered why she felt shortchanged.

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