Elizabeth Zurlo is lost. She’s a wife, a mother, a teacher, a PTA volunteer—but somewhere along the way, she’s lost herself. Depression and despair can lead to desperate measures and when she is pulled back from the brink of suicide, Elizabeth slowly tries to rebuild her marriage and reclaim her life. Just as she has finally started to put herself back together, a scandalous novel rocks her small town … and costs Elizabeth her social standing, friendships and ultimately, her marriage. However, the man who seemingly destroyed Elizabeth’s life, helps her realize who she is and what she needs to do to become the woman she’s not only capable of being, but the woman she used to be.
It’s difficult to like Elizabeth Zurlo because she is so immensely weak. Then again, that’s somewhat the point: Elizabeth has no strength, no sense of self. She is someone upon whom others imprint their visions of what sort of person she is. She has such a small sense of self-worth that she surrounds herself – continuously – with people who belittle and walk over her. It’s what she thinks she deserves.
And when you meet her mother, you understand why. Boy, do you ever. Agnes could give Joan Crawford lessons on obsessive, smothering parenting. I wouldn’t have been surprised if Agnes had shown up at Elizabeth’s house, blasted through the closets, and bellowed, “NO MORE WIRE HANGERS … EVER!”
And then there is Peter, Elizabeth’s husband. Why – WHY – would Elizabeth marry such a man?
I’ll be honest: as I read this book, I kept thinking that Elizabeth deserved all of these awful people because she was so dull and uninspiring. When I finished it, I kept thinking about her. Elizabeth married Peter because she thought she should. She believed he would be a good provider. There is no evidence that either thought passionately about the other; theirs was a pragmatic relationship. Given that Elizabeth’s father never defended her or made her feel valued, it’s easier to understand why she settles for Peter.
As the ostensible reason for Elizabeth’s misery, Jack is something of a mystery. He alludes to loving Elizabeth, yet his behavior does not allude to any loving feelings for her whatsoever. In writing the book, he fires a salvo that he surely knows will be painful and cause her agony. He professors to be shocked at the effects of his behavior, but I’m not sure I believe him.
The biggest problem with Elizabeth’s character is that there is a fine line between being naive and being stupid, and Elizabeth occasionally crosses that line. How could she not realize that she was the central character in Jack’s book? That, my friends, is a head scratcher. I couldn’t help but want the best for her, even though I didn’t like her a whole lot.
There is some sex in the book, but it is not at all what you anticipate, especially given the racy cover. Most of the book takes place in Elizabeth’s head and not in the bedroom. Oh, and get ready for some repetition: you will read “too little too late” a little too often. The ending of the book, though, is perfect for Elizabeth. You will want to pat her on the back and tell her, “Job well done.”
Most days Elizabeth Zurlo felt that her life had somehow swallowed her up. She no longer knew who she was inside. The external forces in her life defined her whole being. She was Peter’s wife, Mrs. Zurlo. She was Teddy and Sydney’s mom. And at work, where she was a preschool special education teacher, she was Miss Elizabeth. A lifetime ago, she had been known as Liza, but no one called her that anymore. Despite this wide array of titles, Elizabeth no longer knew who she was inside. Her life was a chaotic mess, running from one place to another. Trying desperately to balance the demands of motherhood, running a household, being personal assistant to her ever-forgetful husband, and taking care of her students’ needs. There were simply not enough hours in the day to do all this and care for herself as well. It was hard to believe that one can be burned out by the age of thirty-four, but that is exactly how Elizabeth felt. Burned out, used up, empty. She was in desperate need of a recharge.
She sighed as she filled out the dry-erase board for the month. It was already the fourth of the month, and she was behind, just putting the new month out now. It was only the second month of school and she was behind the eight ball. She was painfully anal as she color-coded the activities for the family. Feeling that if she could neatly organize her life on the board, then it would fall into place in reality. Black for her, red for Peter. Blue for Teddy and purple for Sydney. A little orange pumpkin on Halloween. Slowly, square after square became filled in, until there were only about five empty during the entire month. Dance lessons. Piano lessons. Baseball. PTA meetings. Dentist appointments. Work meetings. Birthday parties. School projects. No school next Monday. This was Elizabeth’s life, month after month. There would be no break, no recharging this month. She copied the information to the calendar from her ever-trusty iPhone, knowing full well that no one in her family ever looked at the calendar. But still, she tried, knowing the key to a smoothly running household was clear communication.
Elizabeth yelled up the stairs to the kids and they came barreling down, pushing and shoving. Each one wanting to be first. “Stop guys,” she warned.
“Mom, he pushed me!” Sydney whined.
“Did not, you cut me off!” Teddy replied, shoving his sister. A few more jabs were thrown while the pair descended the stairs.
“ENOUGH, BOTH OF YOU!” Elizabeth yelled. “Someone is going to get hurt!” The shoving continued. “SIT DOWN NOW!”
Elizabeth started slamming cabinets and dishes. She saw Peter coming down the stairs, and couldn’t miss the dirty look he gave her. He hated her yelling, but he never looked at why she was yelling, only that she was. She turned her back, took a deep breath, re-arranged her face to something more resembling calmness, and turned back to face her children. Anything to avoid conflict this morning. While Elizabeth busied herself getting her children breakfast, she noticed Peter standing in front of the calendar. Wonder of wonders, he even seemed to be looking at it! Then, as if guided by the hand of God, Peter picked up the red marker and Elizabeth was dumbfounded. Never in the five years since she had been using the board had Peter ever written on it, save a random phone number here or there. It finally gave Elizabeth a glimmer of hope on a gray, October Monday morning. A smile started to spread across her face.
That was, until Elizabeth saw what Peter had written. “You’re going out of town this week? Again?”
“Yeah, project meeting in Michigan. They need me to go over what we’re doing here and help set up the facility out there, so they can start testing.”
“Oh.” She couldn’t even muster fake enthusiasm. She let out a defeated sigh. “How long do you think you’ll be gone?”
“I leave tomorrow morning, and they hope to have me back by the following Tuesday, but you know how it goes.”
Elizabeth sighed again and pasted yet another pleasant look on her face. At least, she hoped it looked that way. She looked up at the calendar. The week held the typical entries – Sydney had dance tonight. Piano for both kids and a dentist appointment on Tuesday. Baseball and PTA meeting on Wednesday. Guess she’d have to skip the meeting. Again. Teddy had a spelling test on Thursday. Saturday held a birthday party for Sydney. No school next Monday, which meant another day that she had to entertain the kids. They were barely a month into school, and she was already behind on her overwhelming paperwork. Her shoulders fell and her head dropped.
Life with a second grader and a kindergartener was always busy, especially when you were working full time. Elizabeth felt like she never got a chance to breathe. Something always needed to be addressed. Some fire needed to be put out. She looked around at the kitchen, with her counter covered in papers and dishes piled up in and around the sink. She closed her eyes tightly and tried to take deep calming breaths before she totally snapped. She balled her fists and pressed them tightly to her eyes, hoping that when she opened them, the house would miraculously be as organized as her calendar. Some days, she could pull it together and she felt like Helen Reddy, Martha Stewart and Supernanny all rolled into one. Other days, she felt like a hybrid of Mommy Dearest and Cruella de Ville. Today was a Mommy Dearest/Cruella kind of day. The thought of facing the week alone was too much for her to handle on a Monday morning.