Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Book Review: "The Land of Steady Habits" by Ted Thompson

Is it ever too late in life to have a mid-life crisis?

Anders Hill doesn't think so. He and his wife, Helene, are living a financially comfortable life in suburban Connecticut, socializing with the same group of people they have for years. Both of their sons are grown and have moved on to lives of their own (one more successfully than the other), and they've just finished the requisite home renovations.

For some reason, this life is no longer enough for Anders. He retires from his job in the financial sector and decides it's time he and Helene get a divorce. This decision doesn't follow any significant anguish or betrayal—he's just not satisfied with his life anymore, and is ready to move on to the next chapter, despite how surprising and upsetting this decision is for Helene, their family, and friends. (And don't even mention his poor timing in announcing his decision to Helene.)

Once Anders moves into a condo and is now free of all of the social obligations he found so stilted, he realizes he misses that life, misses Helene, more than he anticipated. But attempts to re-enter his old life seem to go more than awry—he always seems to do or say the wrong thing at the wrong time, and his discovery that Helene has begun dating his old college roommate throws him for even more of a loop. (And doing drugs periodically with a friend's son isn't helping matters either.)

"Divorce, he'd learned early on, was not so much from your spouse but from all of the things you'd forged as a couple—the home, the parental authority, the good credit, the friends."

The Land of Steady Habits follows Anders, Helene, and their youngest son, Preston, as they all try to make sense of their new realities and deal head-on with (or avoid, in some cases) the challenges that they face. It's an interesting look at how easy it is to become complacent in a life in which you're basically unhappy, and how easy it is to take things and people around you for granted. This book is also a commentary about how privilege doesn't always equal happiness.

This was a well-written book, but the majority of the characters were fairly unsympathetic, so it was difficult to warm to them. Anders seemed like a person who was probably in need of psychological help (as was Preston), but people continued berating them and letting their behavior continue unabated instead of getting them help. I totally understood Anders' rants and his need for something different, I just felt like it took him a long time to get there. And while Helene seemed to be the character most deserving of empathy, she seemed fairly flat to me. My favorite parts of the book were Anders' interactions with Charlie, the troubled son of Helene's closest friends, and I wished there were more of those.

In the end, I thought this would be more a comic look at a late-in-life mid-life crisis, but it turned out to hew more toward an introspective character study. Not that there's anything wrong with that...

No comments:

Post a Comment