Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Wallflower in Bloom

Wallflower in Bloom
Claire Cook
Published by Touchstone
Publication date: June 2, 2012
272 pages
Available on Amazon.com
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.
4.5 cupcakes

I think I have another girl crush. And Claire Cook, I'm talking about you, sister.

Before we begin this review, please stop what you're doing and get yourself a copy of Wallflower in Bloom. You're welcome.

Deirdre Griffin is approaching middle age and doesn't have a whole lot to show for it. Her life is consumed by her brother, Tag, an advice guru (as Deirdre puts it, "Think Deepak Chopra meets Bono") with millions of followers happily paying to hear such chiasmi slogans as "You don't have to be a winner to start, but you have to be a winner." When Tag thinks of - or, more frequently, hears - a chiasmus, he tells Deirdre to write it down, because it might come in handy. (A chiasmus, by the way, is an inversion of a parallel structured phrase.)

Deirdre not only is Tag's manager and personal assistant, she lives in a house he pays for, travels with his credit card, and is responsible for his life. Her two sisters also are tied financially to Tag (one as his housekeeper, one as his art dealer), as are their parents and even Tag's ex-wives. All of them live in a sort of commune on Tag's property.

But then one day, Deirdre decides she's had enough. A school friend of Tag's, Steve Moretti, happens upon Tag, Deirdre and their parents in Austin, where Tag is giving another one of his personal appearances. Steve is a landscape designer, and when Tag catches him kissing Deirdre, he humiliates his sister, telling Steve that he didn't need to make out with Deirdre in order for Tag to consider doing business with him. Convinced that, yet again, she is being used, Deirdre quits Tag, heads back to Boston, where she runs into her on-again, off-again boyfriend, who announces that he's (a) getting married because (b) his girlfriend is pregnant. Marriage and fatherhood are two things he told Deirdre he did not want, so clearly he did not want them with her.

Tired of being the family wallflower, Deirdre enters herself in a contest to be a contestant on Dancing with the Stars.

Yes, she will cha cha and rhumba her way to freedom, a freedom she explains to Steve that has been difficult to achieve.

"Because every time I quit, he offers me more money? ... Because his business owns the house I live in?  Because my family is like a giant soul-sucking octopus, and once they get their tentacles on you, there's nothing you can do to get away?"

What bothers her is her dependence on her brother and her inability to forge a life apart from him. She recalls various episodes of her life, all of which seem to point to Deirdre being the forgotten member of the Griffin household. Dancing with the Stars may be the only way she can break free.

Only it isn't, because her getting on the show is tied to Tag's popularity.

To combat her sense of hopelessness, Deirdre frequently turns to food. And this is one of the reasons why I love Claire Cook - it's her ability to accurately reflect the battle that many of us have with food.

It was the story of my life. When in doubt, eat. When in eat, doubt. I ate when I was anxious about something. But as soon as the food was in my mouth, I realized I didn't really want it, so I didn't even enjoy it. Or sometimes even taste it. Maybe I should just start carrying a spittoon with me wherever I went.

Perhaps getting on a show that depends on skimpy costumes and vigorous dance steps is not exactly the salve for Deirdre's tortured soul, but we can understand why it's important to her and why she needs it.

Deirdre is so wonderfully written. You will love her beyond words, and you will want her to cast off her wallflower-ness and embrace all of the things about her that you love. But there are times when her self-help bent gets a bit much, especially when her self-awareness seems to come too easily. Then again, with Tag around all these years, perhaps it's easy because it's been there all along.

Read Wallflower in Bloom and enjoy Claire Cook's witty, moving and delightful writing. And most of all, enjoy Deirdre Griffin.

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