Even though she still maintains the trappings of her quiet suburban life, Dana Stellgarten's ordinary, seemingly happy existence has been knocked off its axis. Her husband has left her for a younger woman ("The story of Dana's divorce bored even her"), and even though her kids --- seven-year-old Grady and middle-schooler Morgan --- seem to have weathered the storm well enough, the whole family is starting to show signs of fraying around the edges. And when Dana's teenaged niece Alder shows up on her doorstep, practically unrecognizable with her dyed-black hair and sullen attitude, Dana feels like she has just one too many balls in the air.
She's feeling pressure to date again, or at least be more social, a year after the end of her marriage. But she barely remembers the rules of dating, so how can she trust herself to make good choices when it comes to men? She's eager to continue her stay-at-home mom's active schedule of volunteering and chauffeuring her children to their various extracurricular activities, but when her ex-husband's finances dwindle, it's clear that she's going to have to get at least a part-time job. What's more, Morgan might be developing an eating disorder fueled by her new friendship with the most popular girl in sixth grade. Grady is picking fights at school and demanding to spend more time with his father and his dad's girlfriend. And Alder? She's just a mystery.
Meanwhile, Dana is still haunted by the tragedies of her own youth and still mystified by the niceties of social relationships among the "cupcakers," as her hippie sister has dubbed the suburban moms of Dana's social circle. Is it possible that girls' and women's friendships are doomed to backstabbing and betrayals? Are all romances doomed to misunderstandings and false promises? Is Dana doomed to feel like she's always just barely keeping her head above water?
If it sounds to you like Juliette Fay has set an ambitious task for herself in DEEP DOWN TRUE, you're right. What seems on the surface to be a fairly lightweight, breezy sort of novel actually tackles a host of serious issues in a remarkably thoughtful fashion. Although some topics --- like Dana's barely-remembered, troubled relationship with her deceased father --- can come across as afterthoughts, overall, the book remains thematically consistent.
What's more, it's just a genuinely good story, as readers travel with Dana through a very confusing, often maddening period of rebuilding and redefining her life. Anyone who has had to make a new beginning when she least expected it will relate to Dana's journey. Actually, the dozens of topics that Fay covers here mean that almost everyone will feel that some aspect of the story speaks to her directly, whether it's the mother-daughter relationships, the female "friendships," the awkward romance, or the genuinely sweet love story.
DEEP DOWN TRUE is a novel that serves different readers different ways. Some may just let Dana's story of self-discovery wash over them, while others --- preferably with a good girlfriend or three and a bottle of wine besides --- will relish digging deep into Dana's story, reflecting on how the truths Fay uncovers resonate with women's lives everywhere.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on March 28, 2011
Deep Down True