Amy Poeppel doesn’t write thrillers or mysteries with stunning twists that surprise. Rather, as with her new release, “The Sweet Spot,” she writes about people who are like you and me. She creates people who suffer and act accordingly; people who do stupid things and regret it. In this novel, she introduces us to a woman we don’t like very much. Melinda has just been dumped by her husband of 30 years for a younger Felicity, and she’s angry. That’s actually a gross understatement. She’s furious, livid, somewhere way beyond rational thought.
So she does what any normal irate, betrayed person would do. She goes on a vengeful spree of hateful acts agains anyone she perceives might have been even tangentially part of the betrayal. And the recipients of her hatred are a bit mystified because they don’t really understand what they’ve done to deserve this incredible level of loathing. Lauren is a potter whose creations are being snapped up by Felicity, a beautiful British woman with a chain of upscale stores and a decorating show on television. Olivia works for Felicity, and when she is helping out at one of the stores, Melinda comes in set on revenge against Felicity, and the result, unfortunately recorded by another shopper and posted online, goes viral and causes Olivia to lose the job she loves so much.
Lauren doesn’t understand why the new receptionist at her children’s private school shows such vitriol towards her. It’s Melinda, and she signs Lauren up to care for the dozen gerbils in the school’s classrooms over the holidays, signs Lauren up for field trips with classes her children aren’t even in, and makes up things about her. Melinda is out of control.
The way Poeppel plots out the story, all these three women’s lives intersect. And when Felicity gets pregnant with Melinda’s ex-husband Russell, he agrees to quit his high-powered job and stay home to care for the baby so she can continue with her career. It would seem to be a win-win situation, but when Felicity leaves their New York condo to go to the west coast, where the show is filmed, Russell can’t handle the baby alone. He shows up at Melinda’s apartment begging for help.
Through an almost-comical set of circumstances, Lauren, her husband Leo, their three children, Lauren’s mother Evelyn, Leo’s biological father Phillip, Olivia, her father Dan, and even Melinda end up caring for baby Horatio when both Russell and Felicity go missing. They aren’t missing as in “where did they go,” but rather as in “we have other things to do and the baby comes second.”
We slowly grow to care for each of these very different characters, and when they each—each of them!—go through a kind of crisis, we are rooting for them. Poeppel accomplishes what she has set out to do, which in my opinion is to show that family comes from people you choose, not necessarily whom you are born related to. And the most quirky of us still deserves respect. Leo, Lauren’s husband, is a goofy guy and loves to be silly, but we find we like that a lot better than Lauren’s stuffy brother and sister-in-law who look down their noses at the rest of the family. And there’s even a dog!
Many of the characters grow and change, including Lauren’s mother Evelyn, whose metamorphosis is as beautiful as it is touching. The start is a bit slow as Poeppel introduces us to the characters and the backstory, but stick with it. It’s all necessary and it leads to a lovely story and a perfect conclusion. When you turn the last page, your heart will feel a bit fuller and you will be happy you made the acquaintance of this different kind of family.
Please note: This review was first posted on Bookreporter.com. Review is based on the advance review copy provided by Emily Bestler Books, the publisher, for review purposes.