MIRA, $6.99, ISBN 1-55166-656-1
Contemporary Fiction, 2003
There is no romance in Pamela Morsi’s Letting Go, but rather, a story of four generations of Jameson women who stick together through thick and thin, although sometimes it’s a rocky road for them.
There is Ellen Jameson, fortysomething, who brings her daughter Amber and granddaughter Jet home to her mother Wilma when Ellen’s husband died and she has to file bankruptcy (his illness took a lot out of their savings). The main event rallying them together is Wilma’s stepchildren and their mother banding together with their favorite lawyers to run the Jameson women out of the house. In the meantime, Wilma has to learn to be responsible even more than she ever was in her life (Wilma to men is like Liz Taylor gone ya-ya), Ellen learns to get her life back on track by working at the accounting firm Cowboys for Taxes (I know, I know), and Amber has to stop partying so much and grow up.
This book starts out really good. Ellen is uptight, but she has her reasons to be. Wilma is an amazing old lady, the ballsy no-nonsense type that doesn’t descend into caricature. She’s no All-Knowing Wise Woman, Dotty Miss Daisy, Bitter Granny Betty, or any one-dimensional ya-ya granny out there. There is a scene where she takes her granddaughter Jet – who is half-African American – shopping and a acquaintance says something really wrong about Jet, and Wilma just lets it rip on that woman. She has wit and she also is pragmatic and a romantic all at once. I like her.
Also, Jet is three, and while she can get a little bit too sweet at times, she mostly acts like a realistic three year old. No grand adult speeches from this girl to act as some plot device. Ellen’s coming into her job is also a nice read.
Unfortunately, the author is less successful with Amber. Frankly, Ms Morsi’s portrayal of the “young and reckless” party crowd is, shall I say, laughable? Do people still use the word “flyboys” nowadays? Maybe it’s a regional American thing, I guess. I’m not hip and happening or anything, but I seriously doubt even the lamest party out there is anything as stilted and unconvincing here as Amber’s “parties” and her “hip talk” with her equally “in” girlfriends. I shudder and try to read as fast as I can whenever the story focuses on Amber. Ms Morsi is better when she’s writing about women leading quiet lives. All that “happening” isn’t happening much under this author’s pen.
There are many things to like about this book. As an author who writes Americana historicals, Ms Morsi could have easily slathered this book with horrifically conservative concepts and notions. But Letting Go is actually a rather moderate book that celebrates both the working women and the women who kept homes, and while Amber is what one can call fast, Ms Morsi prefers to just tell Amber’s story instead of inviting me to condemn her. There are some stereotypes here – the loud busybody, for example – but overall, the author’s characters come off like human beings. Her observations about life and the little events we women go through daily are also amusing and even sobering.
It’s just that sometimes the author gets too enthusiastic in driving home her messages. There are scenes that are so blatantly contrived or dialogues so scripted that I doubt any guy or woman can give at the drop of the hat. This and Amber’s unconvincing personality and subplot make this one a rather nice story about Southern women trying to make it through life, but there are some rough edges in the story that can be jarring at the same time.