2015 Book #60: UNDER THE INFLUENCE by Joyce Maynard

Under the Influence by Joyce Maynard
ISBN: 9780062257642 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780062411532 (paperback)
ISBN: 9780062257727 (ebook)
ISBN: 9780062257796 (audiobook)
ASIN: B00MTRRRVC (Kindle edition)
Publication date: February 23, 2016 
Publisher: William Morrow

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.   

Helen has already made one catastrophic mistake in her life, driving her sick son to the hospital while intoxicated. This resulted in losing custody of her son. Just when she thinks all is lost, she connects to a wealthy couple that offers her friendship and an entrée to a world she’s only seen in magazines, television, and movies in Under the Influence by Joyce Maynard.

As a child, Helen created a variety of scenarios to explain away her dysfunctional life including telling the mother of a classmate that Audrey Hepburn was her grandmother. As an adult, Helen thought her life was set when she married. She was quite happy with her husband, child, and in-laws until her husband came home to report that he was in love with someone new. Facing not just the loss of her husband but the loss of her “family,” she begins to drown her sorrows in alcohol. After losing custody of her son, she joins AA and begins her new life of sobriety. While catering an art show, she meets Ava Havilland and is quickly befriended. Before you know it, she’s spending time with Ava and her husband Swift at their home at all hours of the day and night. It is because of their largesse that Helen is finally able to spend time with her son, albeit after he’s spent time swimming with Swift and playing with Ava and Swift’s dogs. When her fiancé, Elliott, begins to question their motives and financial acumen, Helen refuses to listen and even begins to pull away from the one person that truly seems to care for nothing more than her happiness and well-being. When tragedy strikes, Helen’s rose-colored glasses are raised and she begins to question whether friendship should ever come with provisos and stipulations?

I found Under the Influence to be a captivating read. When I first read that the main character was a recovering alcoholic, I thought the title referred to drinking issues. The more I read the more I realized that Helen was under the influence of something more intoxicating (for her at least), friendship and the thought of being a part of something akin to a family. Ava and Swift are well-thought of and engaging people, but it is easy to see that are also highly skilled at manipulation and using whatever advantage they can to get what they want done. For lack of a better word, they are bullies, emotional bullies but bullies nonetheless. Helen isn’t a sad or pathetic person she’s just someone that craves friendship and a family. She had that once, lost it, and is struggling to rationalize staying with her new “family” for as long as possible. Her relationship with Elliott was happy and fulfilling but sabotaged by Ava and Swift’s constant belittling of Elliott’s profession and his seemingly boring demeanor. Ms. Maynard has adeptly captured the toxic nature of some friendships and the devastating results wrought by them with Under the Influence. I liked Helen and felt sympathetic toward her and her situation. I empathized with Elliott and his attempts to be there for Helen and get her to see the true nature of her relationship with the Havillands. And I felt downright sorry that Ollie, Helen’s son was caught up in all the high drama. This was the first book I’ve read by Ms. Maynard, but I doubt if it will be my last (I’ve put her previous titles on my TBR list and am looking forward to reading them all). If you enjoy reading about relationships—the good, the bad, and the ugly—then you’ll definitely want to read Under the Influence. I strongly suggest you wait until the weekend to start reading this book, because once you start you won’t want to put it down.

Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book for review purposes from the publisher via Edelweiss. I was not paid, required, or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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