The Underside of Joy

The Underside of Joy

4.3 33
by Sere Prince Halverson
     
 

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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

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Overview

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 close-knit 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.

Weaving a rich fictional tapestry abundantly alive with the glorious natural beauty of the novel's setting, Halverson is a captivating guide through the flora and fauna of human emotion-grief and anger, shame and forgiveness, happiness and its shadow complement . . . the underside of joy.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Fleeing a failed marriage, Ella Beene arrives in Elbow, Calif., where she meets Joe and his two children, abandoned four months ago by Paige, who suffered from postpartum depression. After a quick marriage, Ella’s new life turns upside down after only three years when Joe drowns, leaving her a business deeply in debt and an ex-wife back in town intent on regaining custody of the children that Ella has come to love. A difficult custody battle results in Paige taking her children to Las Vegas. Ella follows, to be closer to the children, and the two women sustain a heated conflict until a terrible accident involving Zach, the youngest, makes them realize that they each care for these children deeply. Halverson paints a lovely picture of smalltown life and intimate family drama, creating sympathy for Ella, which is easy, but also for Paige, whose own troubled past complicates a figure that would ordinarily be demonized. Nuanced characters and a lack of cliché make for a winning debut. Agent: Weed Literary. (Jan.)
People Style Watch
[An] exquisite debut... moving and hopeful
Booklist
Halverson's debut novel marks her as a strong new voice in women's fiction…this would make an excellent book-club choice.
Shelf Awareness
Seré Prince Halverson's debut novel is a faultless exploration of sadness and shame, anger and forgiveness; a story well told about people we would like to know.
Sarah Weinman
Seré Prince Halverson's emotionally rich debut novel . . . weaves complex subplots with deceptive ease. . . . The strength of this novel is in its empathy for all its characters—and for two women who want what's best for the children they both love with equal claim on motherhood.
Publishers Marketplace
From the Publisher
"The Underside of Joy covers the transforming experiences of most of our lives - marriage, parenthood and death - with maturity, understanding and grace. Anyone who has known love, loss, regret and forgiveness can identify with Ella and her transformation, and with subplots about sibling rivalry, the local food movement and the persecution of Italian immigrants during World War II, the book offers a lot to think about. I suspect it will be a book club favorite."
Associated Press

"[An] exquisite debut… moving and hopeful." - People Style Watch

"Halverson's debut novel marks her as a strong new voice in women's fiction…this would make an excellent book-club choice." - Booklist

"Halverson paints a lovely picture of smalltown life and intimate family drama…Nuanced characters and lack of cliche make for a winning debut." - Publishers Weekly

"Halverson avoids sentimentality, aiming for higher ground in this lucid and graceful examination of the dangers and blessings of familial bonds." -Kirkus Reviews

"Sere Prince Halverson's debut novel is a faultless exploration of sadness and shame, anger and forgiveness; a story well told about people we would like to know." -Shelf Awareness

"The writing in The Underside of Joy is as purely beautiful as the story is emotionally complex. When Ella Beene is wrenched from a state of unexamined happiness into confusion and grief, she finds that her only hope of emerging whole is to face searing and long-buried truths. Ella embarks on a difficult journey, both morally and materially, one that requires her to risk losing everything she most loves. I cheered (sometimes through tears) her every step." -Marisa de los Santos - Marisa de los Santos

"Searingly smart and exquisitely written, Halverson's knockout debut limns family, marriage and a custody battle in a way that gets under your skin and leaves you changed. To say I loved this book would be an understatement." -Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You

"Sere Prince Halverson's emotionally rich debut novel . . . weaves complex subplots with deceptive ease. . . . The strength of this novel is in its empathy for all its characters-and for two women who want what's best for the children they both love with equal claim on motherhood." - Sarah Weinman, Publishers Marketplace

"Halverson's gloriously down-to-earth novel is so pitch perfect that as readers reluctantly reach the last page, wanting more, they will have to take it on faith that this really is her first fiction."
Library Journal (starred review)

Library Journal
Ella Beene is devastated by husband Joe's death—and even more devastated when his ex-wife, Paige, shows up at the funeral to reclaim the children Ella has been tenderly stepmothering for several years. As Ella battles for custody, she also tries to understand what scarred Joe and Paige's marriage irreparably. Subject to a bidding war, sold to 13 territories, and pitched at BEA's Editors Buzz Panel, this debut would seem to be a hot commodity for January.
Kirkus Reviews
A poignant debut about mothers, secrets and sacrifices. When Ella is suddenly widowed (Joe has drowned in a freak accident) she reacts as any young woman would--disbelief mixed with a frantic need to keep things normal for their two small children. But on the tail of grief comes disaster: she didn't know their Italian grocery is nearing bankruptcy and the children's mother has come to reclaim them. Three years ago Ella stopped in a small Northern California town, met Joe and never left. Joe's wife Paige had abandoned Joe and the children a few months prior to Ella's arrival and sent a few letters begging him to move on. Joe and Ella married, and she became mother to infant Zach and toddler Annie. Now Joe is dead and Paige is back demanding her children. The store that Joe inherited from his grandfather (an Italian-American who was interned during World War II) is foundering, so to save the store, and in turn secure custody of the children, Ella decides to transform the grocery into a gourmet deli, serving the tourists who flock to Sonoma. In custody mediation it seems Ella will win (judges take a poor view on disappearing mothers), though Paige insists she has been writing and trying to see the children for years. When custody has almost been finalized in Ella's favor, she finds the stack of Paige's letters, hidden by Joe. The letters tell a different story: of Paige suffering from postpartum depression, of her dismissed fears that she might hurt the children, of running away to get help and hospitalization and, finally, of Paige writing to come back to her marriage and children and finding she has already been replaced. History must be revised for both of these women: Who are they to each other now? What kind of a husband did they have in Joe? Halverson avoids sentimentality, aiming for higher ground in this lucid and graceful examination of the dangers and blessings of familial bonds.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780525952596
Publisher:
Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Publication date:
01/12/2012
Pages:
320
Product dimensions:
6.38(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.09(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Marisa de los Santos
The writing in The Underside of Joy is as purely beautiful as the story is emotionally complex. When Ella Beene is wrenched from a state of unexamined happiness into confusion and grief, she finds that her only hope of emerging whole is to face searing and long-buried truths. Ella embarks on a difficult journey, both morally and materially, one that requires her to risk losing everything she most loves. I cheered (sometimes through tears) her every step. (Marisa de los Santos, author of Love Walked In)
-Booklist
“Halverson’s debut novel marks her as a strong new voice in women’s fiction…this would make an excellent book-club choice.”
-People Style Watch
“[An] exquisite debut… moving and hopeful.”
-Sarah Weinman
“Seré Prince Halverson’s emotionally rich debut novel . . . weaves complex subplots with deceptive ease. . . . The strength of this novel is in its empathy for all its characters—and for two women who want what’s best for the children they both love with equal claim on motherhood.”
From the Publisher
"Halverson’s gloriously down-to-earth novel is so pitch perfect that as readers reluctantly reach the last page, wanting more, they will have to take it on faith that this really is her first fiction."
-Library Journal (starred review)
Caroline Leavitt
Searingly smart and exquisitely written, Halverson's knockout debut limns family, marriage and a custody battle in a way that gets under your skin and leaves you changed. To say I loved this book would be an understatement. (Caroline Leavitt, author of Pictures of You)
-Marisa de los Santos
"The writing in The Underside of Joy is as purely beautiful as the story is emotionally complex. When Ella Beene is wrenched from a state of unexamined happiness into confusion and grief, she finds that her only hope of emerging whole is to face searing and long-buried truths. Ella embarks on a difficult journey, both morally and materially, one that requires her to risk losing everything she most loves. I cheered (sometimes through tears) her every step." -Marisa de los Santos

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Meet the Author

SERÉ PRINCE HALVERSON lives in northern California and worked as a freelance copywriter for twenty years while she wrote fiction. She and her husband have four grown children. She is a mom and a stepmom, and grew up with a mom and a stepmom. This is her debut novel.

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