Hoping for Hope by Lucy Clare
(NAL Accent, $6.99, PG) ISBN 0-451-20820-X
**
I can’t imagine why you would enjoy this book unless you are fond of watching train wrecks and car crashes. Hoping for Hope is full of unhappy, dislikable people being nasty to each other. If, as the back cover banner suggests, NAL Accent is “fiction for the way we live,” then I’m truly sorry the human race has degenerated to this point.

At age 50, Liddy Claver is shocked to learn that the symptoms she thought indicated the start of menopause are instead the signs of pregnancy. She’s in her third trimester, as a matter of fact, which means she doesn’t have much time left to tell her husband Martin. They haven’t slept together in more than five years, so she’ll have to confess that she had a short-lived affair with a young man who took her adult education jewelry-making class.

Things get even worse for Liddy when she learns that Martin has also been unfaithful. She also has to cope with the reactions of her three grown children, who are embarrassed and personally offended by her revelation. Her only living relative, Great-Aunt Cleo, is sympathetic to Liddy’s dilemma, but Cleo’s long-time partner Cynthia calls the situation “revolting” and chides Liddy for upsetting 90-year-old Cleo. Liddy feels trapped and helpless, unsure of anything other than the fact that she already loves the unfortunate baby inside her.

Trapped and helpless is pretty much how I felt as I struggled through this novel. I can’t remember the last time I encountered a more miserable cast of characters than Liddy and her family. Oldest daughter Laura is bossy and controlling, obsessively organizing everyone around her to avoid facing her chronic unhappiness. Middle child Miranda is a self-absorbed, emotionally fragile bulimic who feels cornered by her partner Richard’s desire to have a child. The baby of the family, Alex, is an immature charmer who half-heartedly works on an acting career but spends more energy worrying if his lover Mungo is cheating on him. Liddy herself is passive and whiny. As the irascible Cynthia remarks, “You’ve got no backbone, any of you…It’s boring and self-indulgent.” And lord, it’s torture to read about!

By the time Liddy finally decides it’s time to “stop being a doormat” and tells her family where to get off, there are 30 pages left in the novel and the reader has long since stopped caring. The primary emotion I felt was pity for Liddy’s baby for being born into such a wretchedly dysfunctional family. They might as well start saving up for the therapy bills now.

What makes this book even more of a crime is the undeniable fact that Lucy Clare is a strong writer. She made all of the characters come alive for me, even when I wanted them to shut up and get off the pages. Her dialogue rings true and her narrative moves smoothly, so I kept reading even though I wasn’t enjoying the experience. She seems to have a special affinity for homosexual characters; the relationships between Cleo and Cynthia and between Alex and Mungo have more passion and vitality than any of the heterosexual pairings. She also has the knack for capturing small moments, such as her description of the house belonging to a hippie-turned-yuppie couple that Miranda visits: “It was a strange microcosm of their development from university to respectability. Decorated mostly in subdued and tasteful pastel colors, there were little pieces of the house that seemed to refuse to conform, as if fighting for [the couple’s] youth.” Passages like that made me wish the author had used her talents to tell a much different story.

Unless you’re going through a rough patch and want to see someone who is even more miserable than you are , I’d suggest you skip Hoping for Hope. Without one single strong, sympathetic character, the novel put me in a foul mood.

--Susan Scribner


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