Book Review: "Separate Beds" by Elizabeth Buchan

Summary from Tom and Annie's kids have grown up, the mortgage is do-able, and they're about to get a gorgeous new, state-of-the-art French stove. Life is good- or so it seems. Beneath the veneer of professional success and domestic security, their marriage is crumbling, eaten away by years of resentment, loneliness, and the fall out from the estrangement of their daughter, and they've settled into simply being two strangers living under the same roof. Until the economy falls apart. Suddenly the dull but oddly comfortable predictability of their lives is upended by financial calamity-Tom loses his job, their son returns home, and Tom's mother moves in with them. As their world shrinks, Tom and Annie are forced closer together, and the chaos around them threatens to sweep away their bitterness and frustration, refreshing and possibly restoring the love that had been lying beneath all along. In Separate Beds, Elizabeth Buchan has captured the concerns and joys of contemporary women, and her timely, warm, and funny novel tracks the ebb and flow of family, fortune, and love that is familiar to so many readers.

Family stories always grab my attention. It's mainly because even though a family may seem like they have it all together from the outside, inside there are secrets and pains and sorrows hiding behind the smiling faces. There are four subplots in the book: Tom and Annie's story, Tom's mother's story, Jake's story and Emily's story. Out of the four, I found Jake's story about his estranged wife and the custody battle for their daughter to be the most interesting. While the others did have appeal, Jake's story grabbed my attention the most. It was mainly because it was the reverse of what most custody cases tend to be. Instead of the mother trying to retain custody, in this case she wanted to first give up her rights and then tries to get her daughter back. Jocasta comes off across as very selfish and only thinking of herself. I feel like she is one those women who was not meant to be a mother and only got roped in because of the one night stand. Jake's fight for his daughter and his discovery of who Jocasta really is becomes a major turning point in his life.

Tom and Annie's lives are at that middle aged point of life when the marriage seems stale and no one has the energy to make it come alive again. They seem to be going through the motions until a major incident happens that forces them to come back together and truly be husband and wife. I really like how this book upholds marriage when it counts. Tom and Annie could have given up a long time ago and either of them could have left. But instead they stayed together and gave it another chance.

I was hoping for a bit more in regards to Hermione's (Tom's mother) story. When the revelation comes out about her past, it wasn't as shocking as I thought it would be. Her relationship with Annie improves a bit by the end, but it still felt like there were major issues that were never going to get solved between the two of them. Emily's story is more interesting in regards to her sister. When she says to her mother "you still have another daughter" there's so much emotion in that statement. Her parents seemed to have grieved over the loss of one daughter leaving but seemed then to not give that same attention to Emily. Going out into the world and starting a career and a new life for herself invigorates her and allows her to truly live her life.

This is my first book of Buchan's that I've read and I enjoyed it immensely. Even though I'm not at Annie's stage of life, I still felt like I could relate to her and her family. The situations are slice of life stories and could happen to almost anyone. Their family struggles together and comes together to help out each other in times of need. The ending is hopeful without being too happy ending-ish. Buchan' has quite a few books on her back list so I'm looking forward to going back and discovering more of her work.

Separate Beds by Elizabeth Buchan is published by Viking (2011)

This review copy was provided by the publisher


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