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THE OPPOSITE OF LOVE by Julie Buxbaum: Book 17 of 2011 [Dear Thursday]

As it turns out Julie Bauxbum and I decided to read each other’s books for the same reason: basically she has a daughter around the same age as mine, for whom she’s curating a first books collection. As someone who is also deep in the process of curating her own daughter’s first books collection, I commented on her blog post with my own favorite picture book finds. And we both decided on our own to read each other’s debut novel. So here are my thoughts on THE OPPOSITE OF LOVE.

What’s It About: A woman with a perfect boyfriend and well-paid legal career suddenly finds her life unravelling.

What Makes It Different: Our Yale Law grad hero, Emily Haxby, cusses, which I loved. Also, she’s neurotic in an unusual way — as opposed to the Type A way of so many rom-coms. And the epilogue is the prologue.

What I Loved: First of all, I have to say right out front that I am super-biased, b/c both Emily and I are early entrants into the dead mother club. I didn’t realize I was longing for a book that got how difficult this makes dating and connecting with your remaining family members until I started listening to the audiobook of OPPOSITE. At so many points in the book, I found myself nodding along and saying, “Yes, yes, that’s exactly how it feels.” At one point, Emily even makes the same decision that I had to make for myself in order to move her life forward. Buxbaum gets it. She really gets it. It was a lovely gift to read this book on the other side of true healing.

What I Didn’t Like: The Smithie in me just couldn’t get behind Emily’s passive-aggressive handling of a sexual harassment situation. However, the pragmatist in me realizes that this is probably how most women would have handled the situation. It was nice, though, that Buxbaum included a best friend character that presented my side of the argument.

Writing Lessons Learned

Epilogue as prologue. I don’t often see this device — especially in a debut novel — but if you have a character whose entire life completely unravels in the first half of the novel, this sets up a nice mystery of how did she get from point A to Point B and keeps the reader turning the pages.

Awkward moments. If you’ve read 32 CANDLES, you know I’m a big fan of putting my main characters in awkward, embarrassing, almost torturous situations. Buxbaum is, too. Don’t be afraid to take your characters outside of their comfort zone or have something really blow up in her face. Quiet as it’s kept, readers love a good cringe.

Smell your characters. I’m a big fan of both good and bad smells in books, but often first person narrators only describe how places smell, or how other people smell. I loved that when Emily unravels, like a real human being, her hygiene suffers. If also reminds me of one of my favorite rewriting tricks: if you think your scene feels thin somehow, do a pass in which you add sensory details like smell, taste, sound outside of dialogue, and touch outside of human-to-human contact.

To Whom Would I Recommend this Book: Early Members of the Dead Mothers Club, Lawyers, and Folks with Great Grandpas.

Click either book cover to buy the book at Amazon!