This One is Mine is Maria Semple’s first novel. Many on this site have read and reviewed her follow-up bestseller, Where’d You Go, Bernadette? and I am one of them. I loved Bernadette because it was easy to empathize with all of Semple’s characters despite their profound flaws. Semple was able to craft situations which put her characters into conflict based on their unique, imperfect personalities.
This One is Mine is Semple’s first attempt at such a difficult balancing act, and while its humor and understanding are evidence of the author’s immense talent, many of the characters are too unlikable for this novel to be as memorable as Bernadette.
This One is Mine is about a fissure in the seemingly strong marriage between self-made millionaire and music executive David Parry and Violet, an unhappy former TV writer. Their once strong connection is tested by Violet’s encounter with a charming low-life named Teddy Reyes, a bass player in a Rolling Stones cover band. Alongside David and Violet’s story, David’s sister Sally, a past her prime ballerina, laments her status as a single 36-year-old and schemes to trap a sportscaster on the rise into marriage and parenthood.
While Violet’s plot could easily have devolved into poor-little-rich-girl stereotypes, Semple’s creative plotting elevates the material above that. However, Violet’s irrational behavior and poor decisions are trying on the reader, perhaps especially on the male reader. Yet, Violet is a saint compared to the truly despicable Sally. Following Sally as she abused friends, plotted to get her way, lied to everyone including her fiancee, was too much to bear. Sally is every man’s worst fear, a total bitch who manages to fool a guy long enough to get a ring on her finger. If a male novelist had brought Sally Parry into the world, the literary world would score him as a base misogynist perpetrating the worst stereotype of woman imaginable. I’m not sure Semple should get off the hook just because she’s a woman.
Still, there’s too much to enjoy here not to like This One is Mine, even if it registers as something of a minor work by an incredibly talented woman capable of much more.