The Descendants meets Single White Female in this captivating novel about a woman who moves her family to Hawaii, only to find herself wrapped up in a dangerous friendship, from the celebrated author of We Could Be Beautiful. When Nancy and her family arrive in Kona, Hawaii, they are desperate for a fresh start. Nancy's husband has cheated on her, they sleep in separate bedrooms, and their twin sons have been acting out, setting off illegal fireworks. But Hawaii is paradise: They plant an orange tree in the yard, they share a bed once again, and Nancy resolves to make a happy life for herself. She starts taking a yoga class, and there she meets Ana, the charismatic teacher. Ana has short, black hair, a warm smile, and a hard-won wisdom that resonates deeply within Nancy. They are soon spending all their time together, sharing dinners, relaxing in Ana's hot tub, driving around Kona in the cute little car Ana helps Nancy buy. As Nancy grows closer and closer to Ana - skipping family dinners and leaving the twins to their own devices - she feels a happiness and understanding unlike anything she's ever experienced, and she knows that she will do anything Ana asks of her. A mesmerizing story of friendship and manipulation set against the idyllic tropical world of the Big Island, The Goddesses is a stunning psychological novel by one of our most exciting young writers.
"As in her first book, Huntley is a keen social observer, empathetic and biting at once...[A] gripping psychological portrait of a woman at a personal crossroads. A haunting story of betrayal and forgiveness that packs an unexpectedly emotional punch." (Kirkus) "If Swan Huntley's 2016 best-selling suspenser, We Could Be Beautiful, grabbed you and wouldn't let you go, hold on to The Goddesses, about a woman who has just moved to Hawaii with her family and develops a friendship with a yoga instructor that gets close - and then way too close - for comfort." (Lisa Shea, Elle)
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I come away from The Goddesses with mixed feelings but none of them particularly meaningful, which leaves me wondering what point the author means to make.
The book was okay; I got through it. Not awful, not superb. When I finished, I was left wondering, what did I just read, and why?
The writing is not standout by any means. The discourse is not particularly interesting, and the characters lack depth, except for the husband, Chuck. And maybe one of the twin sons. Our protagonists, Nancy and Ana, left me lukewarm.
Nancy is a wife and mother to 17 year old twins Jed and Cam. The twins act and are treated like 12 year olds. I didn't see any reason why the story required them to be so. Their discourse is on the level of boys who watch cartoons and eat Fruit Loops, not independent or intelligent or interesting young men on the brink of adulthood with anything to offer. Even their angst is very poorly executed and glossed over.
We find out in the first few pages that Chuck has had an episode of infidelity (one fumbling drunken episode in a 20-something year marriage) for which he is still being punished. This is one area where Nancy excels. Not to say that cheating is acceptable, but Chuck shows the appropriate level of remorse and extreme desire to win back his wife's trust and affection. Not happening! When Chuck gets the opportunity to transfer to Hawaii for his job, the family moves, calling it an opportunity for a fresh start.
Living in paradise, the twins join the water polo team where they continue to shine as they did in their hometown of San Diego. They make two friends: Cam's friend is Tom, a tall, blond and well-mannered boy; Jed's friend is Leko, an overtly sexual and hostile native Hawaiian boy* who is also apparently a sociopath. Because Chuck and Nancy have a need to be the 'cool dad' and 'cool mom,' however, they pretend to like and welcome both lads.
*A word on this subject. The difference in portrayals of Native vs. 'Haoli' (white) in the novel is stark. I kept waiting for more "Hawaii" to show up, namely characters and cultural descriptors. When Native Hawaiians do show up they are portrayed as the working class at best (as opposed to Nancy and Ana and the yoga set), and usually poor or marginal members of society. To wit, we have Leko, the aggressive, psycho friend of Jed; the overweight family in flip flops watching the high school water polo match while slobbering over greasy KFC "right out of the bucket" (this is sooo gross, according to Nancy); the homeless man with the cliched "mahalos, sista!" who doesn't remember you from one day to the next; the eyeroll-inducing jam maker who tells endless boring whale stories; the "bad scary cop" (according to Nancy) as opposed to the non scary (white) one. The differences between groups as written was so blatant and yet unnecessary to the plot, I had to wonder why the author did this.
Back to the precious transplants. Now in Kona, HI, Chuck is happy at work. One-dimensional Nancy is trying, but isn't finding comfort in the palm trees and white sand beaches. She misses her water polo-mom friends back in San Diego. Trouble is, Nancy is not an interesting character in the least. (The one or two things that might have made her interesting were revealed in the last chapter- why?). Nancy is not a nice person, nor is she very smart. Her dialogue and lexicon are very, very limited ("oh my god!" "But those lips." "Her lips are fake; mine are real." "She is wearing her black wig today." "My name is Nancy." "This is Anna." "Are you okay?" ). She can't really make friends here because she doesn't want to, and she is stuck up. She can't deign to be friends with Brad and Cynthia who also moved to Kona for work. Brad is loud and Cynthia is gauche and tries too hard, plus she accepts Nancy's offer to take whatever old clothes she wants out of Nancy's Goodwill bags and - gasp- is seen wearing her old tee shirts around town. Not cool!
Nancy decides to try a morning yoga class. The teacher, Anna, pronounced ON-na, is captivating. She's pretty- in fact, she looks like Nancy, who is also pretty, so that's good. She has a soft, soothing voice that tells stories of wisdom and many moons of learned experience in connecting with your inner goddess. Anna soon takes Nancy under her wing, and Nancy soon has a best friend, a friend who for the first time in her life feels like a soul sister. Nancy begins to feel connected to her life and her confidence and her inner meaning, but becomes less and less connected to matters at home. Soon, her family starts breaking down, but Nancy is unable or unwilling to see. Anna's influence tugs her under slowly but surely until she is underwater, gasping for air and wondering when she cut all her lifelines.
I was expecting more suspense from this book. About halfway through, some suspense began to build, slowly. The reader can start to foresee what might be happening , i.e. that Nancy might be neglecting her husband and kids just a tad. Then, about 3/4 in, the plot gets somewhat more interesting when the phenomenon of Anna leaks over into Nancy's home and family life as well as just being Nancy's best friend.
The climax occurs nearly 85% of the way into the story. By that time, I had pretty much lost interest in whatever drama and suspense the author was trying to build. Nothing had happened until then! I was expecting Single White Female based on the blurbs. Caution: do not expect this.
The climactic event occurs, and then there is no struggle to a resolution. Our characters suddenly wake up and see the light, and everyone parts ways peacefully.
In conclusion, again, what did I just read? And what message was the author trying to get across? This book was not much of a suspense novel, not deep and meaningful, not particularly insightful except for showing one how a shallow person thinks and acts. It leaves me confused.
A note on the narration. The narrator does an excellent job as the voice of Anna. The voice of Nancy will linger with me for a while as one I never want to hear again. Her inflections were mostly valley-girl, is the best way I can describe it; or like a little kid having a tantrum but in a grown up voice. 'I am not!' 'Oh my GOD!' Just awful. As for the twins, they are narrated as if much younger boys are speaking, very Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Maybe this was done to match their immature dialogue "mom, can I have cereal?" "Yeah mom, I want some cereal, too." "Dude, this is awesome." "Dude!!" "Dude, chill!" "Like, dude!." No, I am not exaggerating.
Mesmerizing Narration, but Story left me wanting more
Hillary Huber beautiful captivates with her voice in this reading especially for the voice of Ana, the yoga teacher. The plot "twists" were predictable with many hints dropped throughout the story. I didn't find Nancy to be a particular likable character or easy to connect with. Instead she comes off as self-righteous, judgmental, and naive. Ana's voice kept calling to me though as it did to Nancy, and Ana kept the plot moving forward.