By Elizabeth Buchan, Viking, $26.95, 372 pages
“Seizing a breathing space, Annie sat down at the kitchen table to catch up with the accounts, which now featured prominently in her routines. However, despite the rigor and expertise she had at her fingertips for work budgets, her control over the domestic one was less sure. The figures would dodge here and there. With a life of their own, they chased after Annie and wrestled her to the ground. Aha, they seemed to say, we control you.”
The premise for Elizabeth Buchan’s Separate Beds could be ripped from current headlines. Annie and Tom Nicholson’s troubled marriage suffers yet another irrevocable setback when Tom, a BBC exec, loses his job. Long gone are the two-martini lunches charged to the credit card, and the family’s favorite pesto from the corner deli is considered a luxury.
Continued misfortunes plague the family. Son Jake struggles to raise his daughter after haughty wife Jocasta leaves him. Daughter Emily abandons her dream to write a novel and accepts a copywriting position. And Tom’s mom, Hermoine, no longer can afford the fancy adult living facility. All four live with Tom and Annie. The one person missing is estranged daughter Mia.
Unfortunately, nothing refreshing surfaces from the book. The detailed efforts of slogging through the day become overbearingly boring and monotonous. What sets this fictional family apart from real families fighting to make ends meet?
Another element missing in action is an unexpected plot twist. The action becomes predictably conventional. The mild obstacles placed in front of this family could happen to anyone, but again, some unanticipated action would have added impact to the storytelling.
The book’s ending wraps up, almost too neatly and rather quickly. Not every subplot needs a happy ending for a successful and memorable finish. Instead, teach readers a lesson that translates to their own lives.
Reviewed by LuAnn Schindler