Under the Influence
by Joyce Maynard
The New York Times bestselling author of Labor Day and After Her returns with a poignant story about the true meaning—and the true price—of friendship.
Drinking cost Helen her marriage and custody of her seven-year-old son, Ollie. Once an aspiring art photographer, she now makes ends meet taking portraits of school children and working for a caterer. Recovering from her addiction, she spends lonely evenings checking out profiles on an online dating site. Weekend visits with her son are awkward. He’s drifting away from her, fast.
When she meets Ava and Swift Havilland, the vulnerable Helen is instantly enchanted. Wealthy, connected philanthropists, they have their own charity devoted to rescuing dogs. Their home is filled with fabulous friends, edgy art, and dazzling parties.
Then Helen meets Elliott, a kind, quiet accountant who offers loyalty and love with none of her newfound friends’ fireworks. To Swift and Ava, he’s boring. But even worse than that, he’s unimpressed by them.
As Helen increasingly falls under the Havillands’ influence—running errands, doing random chores, questioning her relationship with Elliott—Ava and Swift hold out the most seductive gift: their influence and help to regain custody of her son. But the debt Helen owes them is about to come due.
Ollie witnesses an accident involving Swift, his grown son, and the daughter of the Havillands’ housekeeper. With her young son’s future in the balance, Helen must choose between the truth and the friends who have given her everything.ᐧ
There is this phenomenon I’ve noticed in the past: the way that, in a vast landscape containing so much visual information seemingly of no significance, your eyes will be drawn to one small odd thing among all the thousands of others – the thing that calls to you, and suddenly, out of everything else your eyes are taking in and disregarding, they’ll focus on this one spot where something doesn’t make sense, or maybe it spells danger, or it just reminds you of a time and place different from this one. And you can’t look away.
When I was very young and the other kids in my class would ask where my father was, I made up a story. He was a spy, I told them… Another time – different year, different school – I said my father had drowned in a tragic accident, rescuing American prisoners of war… Later in college, I was simply an orphan, left without family after a plane wreck of which I’d been the sole survivor. The reason that I made up stories about my family was simple. Even when they involved great tragedy, the stories I invented were better – larger, more interesting, more filled with deep and powerful emotion, spectacular devotion and heroic sacrifice, and the promise of great things to come – than the actual details surrounding my origins. I preferred the idea of catastrophe or devastation to the truth, which was the dullest but also the saddest of all: the simple fact that neither of my parents took much of an interest in me.
He was like one of those announcers you’d hear on AM radio. Always friendly, always upbeat. At least on the surface. What lay beneath was anybody’s guess, though eventually I’d learn, and when I did, it wasn’t good.
I had the sense I’d disappointed her, fallen short of her hopes. As if I was her child, and I was telling her I’d gotten into a program to become a dental assistance, when she’d expected me to be a cardiac surgeon.
Loss is one thing. Regret over a loss that might not have happened had one known better is worse.
Being unable to put this stunning and spellbinding story down, I read Under The Influence all day and into the night. I was enthralled, engrossed, and completely captivated. I spent the day in Helen’s head – I was snuggling with her son, meeting her blind dates, taking pictures of schoolchildren, playing in a rich woman’s closet when no one was looking. I cannot recall ever being so thoroughly immersed in a book that also kept me fully engaged throughout. I was devastated when she suffered setbacks and even spoke words aloud begging Helen to open her eyes and see the treasure she had in Elliot before it was too late. The storyline was relevant, poignant, active, emotive, evocative, ingeniously paced and artfully written from a first person POV in a confessional and emotionally purging manner. Ms. Maynard is a gifted wordsmith; keenly observant, and frightfully insightful as she deftly tucks in those surprising little touches that make a tale so endearingly moving and steals your breath. I was provided a review copy of this marvelous masterpiece by HarperCollins and TLC Book Tours, for which I will be eternally grateful.
About Joyce Maynard
Joyce Maynard is the author of eight previous novels, including To Die For, Labor Day, The Good Daughters, and four books of nonfiction. Her bestselling memoir, At Home in the World, has been translated into sixteen languages. She lives in California.
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