Everyone Is Beautiful, by Katherine Center.
Here's what I need to confess about Peter and me: We were not exactly in love anymore. After fifteen years and three children together, we were often other places besides in it. We were under it, sometimes. Or above it. Or against it. Or in arms' reach of it. Or in shouting distance of it. Or rubbing shoulders with it. But not in it. Not lately. Not since Baby Sam was born. Baby Sam was, you might say, the straw that broke the Love Camel's back. And now that camel was lying in the desert in the baking sun. All alone and very thirsty. - from Everyone is Beautiful -
Lanie Coates has just moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts from her childhood home in Houston so that her husband Peter can pursue his musical dreams. The couple moves into a tiny apartment with their three children, all under the age of five, and Lanie finds herself overwhelmed, exhausted, and feeling less than beautiful. When she makes the decision to change her life and begins to pursue her own dreams, Lanie soon discovers that beauty and happiness are more than skin deep.
I always know I am reading a terrific novel when I start reading pages out loud to my husband.
"Listen to this," I said more than once while reading Everyone Is Beautiful ... and in between my laughter I shared Center's wonderful prose with my husband who laughed along with me. Center's sense of humor is evident on every page of her engaging novel, and even though I do not have children of my own, I was able to relate to Lanie's puzzlement over her little boys' fascination with their penises (called "noo-noos" in the novel) or her embarassment when a neighbor drops in to see the three boys parading naked through Lanie's house plastered with Maxi pads. Time and again, Center sets up scenes and dialogue which ring true.
Katherine Center's sophomore effort is full of her signature humor and astonishing insight into women's lives. Although the novel revolves around a young mother's life, the story is for every woman. Center touches on a universal truth: that women, in nurturing those they love, often lose themselves in the process. In a society which celebrates physical beauty and bone-thin bodies, many of us feel we are falling short. At the end of a long day of caring for others -- whether it be our pets, our children, our aging parents -- often while juggling jobs and trying to maintain a happy marriage ... many women give up their own dreams or sacrifice personal time which might enrich their lives on another level. So when Lanie cries over her stretch-marks and laments her lost youth, most female readers will empathize.
Everyone is Beautiful is a celebration of all women and the beauty within them:
Laughter is beautiful. Kindness is beautiful. Big boobs should have a big ass to go with them. It's more important to be interesting, to be vivid, and to be adventurous, than to sit pretty for pictures. A woman's soft tummy is a miracle of nature. Beauty comes from tenderness. Beauty comes from variety, from specificity, from the fact that no person in the world looks exactly like anyone else. Beauty comes from the tragedy that each person's life is destined to be lost to time. - from Everyone Is Beautiful -
For any woman who has been too hard on herself, or felt under appreciated or overworked, or simply tired ... Katherine Center's novel will be an affirmation of their inner beauty.
Four and a half stars out of five.
Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".