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Drinking cost Helen her marriage and custody of her seven-year-old son, Ollie. Once an aspiring art photographer, she now makes ends meet by taking portraits of schoolchildren 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.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Gretchen SLP on 03-12-16
Paper-Thin Caricatures Inhabit PG-13 Morality Tale
I've been a Joyce Maynard fan for years, ever since reading her mesmerizing memoir, At Home in the World. Years after that, on the day J.D. Salinger died, I wrote to her and told her that my first thought when I heard the news was, "I wonder how she is feeling today." She was kind enough to write back and thank me for the sentiment. I've continued to admire her writing, and honestly, if not employed full time at a job that expects me to show up on a regular basis, I'd be hard at work at this moment on my essay for her Tiny House Writers Retreat contest (see author's website for full details).
That's why it pains me to say that this book, although entertaining enough that I saw it through to the end, needed more. More of everything. The one-dimensional characters (heroine lacking any shreds of self-esteem or self-confidence, boring-but-true boyfriend who loves her instantly based on nothing more than her picture, wealthy sex-obsessed villains) lack depth; the predictable storyline (sort of like an adult-themed fairy tale) lacks believability; the book as a whole needed more careful research (into tax law, child custody hearings, police procedures, what kind of wheelchair a paraplegic would have, what kind of vehicle a paraplegic might be able to drive, whether a paraplegic would be able to get herself in and out of a vehicle independently and participate in Pilates). Most of all, more careful EDITING would have been hugely beneficial, because a good editor (or even one's fellow Writer's Workshop participants) would be able to spot plot inconsistencies and unanswered questions, of which there are dozens. Why does the heroine see nothing amiss in the characters of her false friends, who are such glaringly obvious self-obsessed villains? Why does her cautious-to-the-point-of-tediousness boyfriend propose to her so impulsively, after only a few dates, and before he ever gets to know her child? What ever happens to the huge diamond ring when they break up--and for that matter, how do they break up so completely, so instantly, on the occasion of their first and only fight? What finally becomes of ANY of the main characters? We'll never know, although if we'd been told, that might have been a really good story.
12 of 17 people found this review helpful
By Katpearl on 03-23-16
Parents make mistakes, hers was a big one...
Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?
I liked this book but still had a few issues with it. It got really slow in places. I found myself wanting to skip to the end of a chapter just so that the story could actually move on to a different subject.
What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?
Most interesting was how Helen grew as a mother and as a person. She was so unsure of herself when she met Ava and Swift. By the time the "Lake Tahoe incident" was behind them, she was much stronger, sure of herself and was on the road to being an excellent mother. The least interesting would be too much detail. I know! How can a book have too much detail?! The more the better, right? For me in this book, it sometimes would drag on and on. I usually have favourite characters in a book. This one for me didn't really have any stand out awesome characters other than Estella, the Havilands maid. Scenes toward the end with her had me choked up. She was probably the one really good person in the book. Elliot was also a great person and I didn't have anything against him, he was just bland. Good-hearted but bland. My least favourite characters were Swift and his "I'm above the law and nothing can touch me" son, Cooper. He isn't in the book a whole lot, but he's a scoundrel.
Have you listened to any of Joyce Maynard’s other performances before? How does this one compare?
No but I've read To Die For.
Was Under the Influence worth the listening time?
I'd say yes.
Any additional comments?
Some of the characters (most of them actually) are extremely irritating. Helen is a good mother who made a really stupid mistake. She drove her 5 year son to the hospital after drinking a couple of bottles of wine. My first thought was, what an idiot, why not call an ambulance to get them both to the ER? It's not against the law for a single mom to have a few drinks after she's put her child to bed, but driving with them while drunk is. So I can understand why she got into trouble. That being said, her ex-husband, Dwight and his whole family, were the ex and ex in-laws from hell. Then there's Swift and Ava, her "saviours", they grated on my nerves from the very moment they were introduced. They were both condescending, overbearing and snobby. Add loud, obnoxious and no morality and you get Swift. These two definitely gave off the air that if you were in their presence, you were an extremely lucky person. When Helen met the Havilands, she thought her luck was changing! They took her under their wings and she finally felt like she had a real family. But we all know the saying "if something seems too good to be true, it probably is". Hmmm, this is where Helen got really irritating. It's one thing to make friends and have them offer help and guidance, but Helen completely lost what little personality and backbone she had. If the Havilands didn't like her clothes, she dressed like Ava wanted her to, she blew off plans with her one REAL friend (and lost her) because she was so busy sucking up to the Havilands, she lost the only man she'd ever truly loved because the Havilands deemed him (Elliot), not good enough for her. Anything they said went. Now let's talk about her son, Ollie. The kid was a brat. Many, many kids are the product of divorce but they don't act like Ollie did. Helen loved him. She was always so excited to see him but nothing she ever did was good enough for him. That is until she bribed Ollie to stay overnight with her by offering use of the Haviland's big house, pool and their other fun amenities. He only did so to be able to go "see the monkey man" as he called Swift (that in itself was beyond annoying). Swift was not the best influence to have over a child either! In closing, Helen grew on me and grew as a mother. Oh and Ollie? Well, I won't give the WHOLE book away!
2 of 4 people found this review helpful