Jane Green is that rare bestselling author who has been able to reject the idea of refining a formula and sticking to it — and it has been great to watch the Westport-based writer evolve so successfully right in our own backyard.
During the early stages of her career in the 1990s, Green was based in her native London where she became a reigning queen of the burgeoning “chick lit” movement with a series of books that paralleled her own journey as a young single woman working in media.
Green fell in love with an American, relocated to Connecticut, had children, went through a divorce, remarried to a man with children, and created a new blended family — major personal changes that were reflected in novels like “The Other Woman,” “Swapping Lives” and “Second Chance” which shifted their narrative focus to more mature characters, most of whom were American.
All of these changes — in geography and lifestyle — seem to have endowed Green with almost unlimited empathy which she pushes to the limit in her new novel, “Another Piece of My Heart,” which St. Martin’s is publishing today.
The book is basically about the conflict between a stepmother and her teenage stepdaughter, but Green expands the story far beyond what you are likely to expect after reading the first few chapters.
The novelist puts us on the side of Andi, an interior decorator living in the San Francisco Bay Area, who has put off getting married until she is pushing 40. Andi finds Mr. Right in the form of Ethan, the divorced father of two girls who shares custody with his ex but has taken on more responsibility because the girls’ mother is an alcoholic.
Andi desperately wants her own children but is happy — at first — being stepmom to Emily who is about to graduate from high school when the story starts and Sophia who is four years younger.
Sophia is crazy about Andi right from the start, but the older daughter wages a war of wills against the stepmom, using her position as daddy’s favorite to maximum advantage.
Just when we think “Another Piece of My Heart” is going to be Andi’s story, Green changes everything about 100 pages in by suddenly shifting from the stepmom to Emily — and from a third-person narrative to first-person.
What is at first a jarring device turns out to be one of the novel’s greatest strengths — Green allows us to see a very complicated family in crisis story from multiple perspectives. The writer is even gutsy enough to include Ethan’s ex, Janice, as a major player — and the woman’s struggle with her addiction becomes a very compelling plot element in the second half of the novel.
By opening up her story, Green delivers unusual suspense for a domestic novel — Andi remains sympathetic throughout but Emily becomes a second protagonist and we wonder how they will ever resolve their differences. It’s a wonderful book.