Ariel Baxter's dream of living "the good life" in Essex Falls is finally coming true. With her husband often away on business and her three boys always underfoot, Ariel knows that once she gets out from under the chaos of unpacking and settles in to her new home, she'll find the happiness she's been lacking. Especially when she meets "perfect" backdoor neighbor, Justine Miller, who instantly takes Ariel under her wing.
Ariel soon gets caught up in Justine's perfect world. She wants so much to be like Justine that she ignores others who try to befriend her. And when she hears rumors that Justine's life may not be all it appears to be, Ariel refuses to accept it. She wants to believe the best about Justine, even though there are plenty of signs that those rumors just might be true.
To the average person, Justine has everything she could ever want. Unfortunately, that's not enough for her. She especially wants more than her husband can give her. He completely dotes on and adores her and their two daughters, but Justine decides she has never really loved him. When she meets her new neighbors, Tom and Betsy Dean, she can't believe the "coincidence." Tom is her long-lost love, the one she still dreamed of and longed for. She tries to resist the attraction at first, but it's not long before Justine and Tom rekindle their romance and begin a full-fledged affair. When Justine's husband loses his job and asks her to return to work because of their huge debt and to be able to maintain their lifestyle, Justine gets angry at her husband. How dare he ask her to do his job! This only drives her deeper into Tom's arms.
Everything eventually comes to a head. Justine gets trapped in her lies, and Ariel needs to answer some questions. Is Justine telling the truth? Should she stand by her friend? And was Justine ever truly a friend at all?
SHE MAKES IT LOOK EASY is about wanting more than you have, no matter what your economic status. It's about how easy it is to get caught up in what you consider the perfect life instead of counting the blessings you already have; about what friendship really means; about judgment and gossip and hypocrisy; about giving in to temptation; and about what being a Christian really means. Those things we all struggle with but never want to talk about. Or at least never want to be completely honest about.
This is both a light and heavy read. The writing is natural and easy, with lots of funny moments that made me laugh out loud, mostly involving Ariel's three boys, who talk about "poop" and "wieners," and have a literal "blast" with feminine products. These scenes were a refreshing reprieve from the seriousness of the subject matter. Author Marybeth Whalen does a fabulous job of presenting real issues within the church without being preachy or tacking on a moral lesson. She shows the consequences through her characters and lets readers take away what they will.
The characters of Justine and Ariel could be any one of us. Ariel struggles with making everything about herself --- wanting the perfect life, trying to be like Justine, and allowing herself to believe everything Justine says demonstrates that. It's a little bit of pride, a little discontentment, and a little greed --- something we all possess from time to time. I'll admit I got a little frustrated that Ariel was so easily influenced, but I'd be lying if I said I'd never been taken in like that before. Then there is Justine, a woman whose past hurts play a part in her present, in her inability to resist temptation when it comes. Her deepest desire is to be loved, and she tries to fill it with material things --- even another man --- instead of with God. She's a "Christian" but lacks true knowledge of God's love for her.
SHE MAKES IT LOOK EASY is a thought-provoking novel that I couldn't put down. I haven't read Marybeth Whalen's first book, THE MAILBOX, yet, but plan on picking up a copy, as I have become an official fan. I suspect you'll become one, too, if you read this book.
Reviewed by Lynda Lee Schab on June 1, 2011