Two words that you’ve heard all your life, say reflexively a dozen times a day, but don’t always believe. “I’m sorry, so sorry, I apologize,” whatever, what does it mean? Is saying it or hearing it helpful? As in the new novel “Mrs. Everything” by Jennifer Weiner, is being sorry ever enough?
Jo Kaufman knew that the news wouldn’t be good.
The second she picked up the call and heard her doctor’s voice, heard the news, she was afraid but not because she was going to die. Jo was afraid that there wouldn’t be enough time left for her to fix her family.
Ever since her sister, Bethie, was born, Jo had felt that Bethie was perfect. Bethie was cute and pert, their mother’s favorite, while Jo spent her childhood feeling awkward, sure that their mother hated her, blaming Bethie for it. It didn’t help that Jo was lanky and athletic at a time when that wasn’t acceptable.
The fact that she liked girls didn’t help, either.
And so, Jo was always her family’s wild child, until Bethie started college and, through action or accident, outdid everything Jo ever did. As the oldest, Jo had to come to the rescue at least once in a big manner, and it changed her life in ways that she felt she had to accept because not accepting them was too hard. And eventually, that led to a wilder Bethie, which led to a sister-fight and an estrangement that lasted too long.
They had patched things up, though, carefully and fragilely. Jo got married and had three children. Bethie dived into Summers of Love and joined a commune. Their mother was not pleased about that, or about the rift, but things had somehow gotten better over time between Bethie and Jo.
As for Jo’s daughters, though, well, that was a different matter, as though family fights were a poisonous legacy she’d unwittingly passed down.
Was there still time left to make things right?
Put “Mrs. Everything” in your hands. Crack open the cover, smell the pages, and then remember that exact moment. It’ll be the last time for a long time that you’ll be in this world instead of the one author Jennifer Weiner gives you.
From the end of the fifth sentence, little else will matter to you except what happens to Jo and Bethie, starting in 1950 in a small tract house for what looks like a perfect family of four. You, of course, will know that the only perfect thing in that scenario is the story to come, as Weiner takes readers forward on a wave of sisterly details, switches, love, and loss. Yes, you know how this novel ends, but you don’t, really, because its 60-year journey is a lot like real-life’s unfolding.
Authentic characters, normal situations, great storytelling, what more do you want? This book, that’s what, so take it to your reading group, on the airplane, to your bedside, or cabana chair. Just take “Mrs. Everything.” You won’t be sorry.
“Mrs. Everything: A Novel” by Jennifer Weiner, 2019, Atria $28, 466 pages