Book Talk: MY FATHER’S WIVES, by Mike Greenberg (via Shelf Awareness)

Mike Greenberg (Twitter)
William Morrow (January 20, 2015), Hardcover (ISBN 0062325868 / 9780062325860)
Fiction, 240 pages

Parts of of this review were previously published in Shelf Awareness for Readers (January 27, 2015). Shelf Awareness provided me with a publisher-furnished galley to facilitate the review, and compensated me for the review they received and posted.

New fiction on The 3 Rs Blog MY FATHER'S WIVES by Mike Greenberg
Sports-radio host Mike Greenberg has followed up the three female protagonists of his first novel, All You Could Ask For, with the half-dozen women in the title roles of his second, My Father’s Wives.

Jonathan Sweetwater last saw his father, the senator, at his ninth birthday party—the day his mother told him not to come back. That was more than thirty years ago, and Jonathan hasn’t given much thought to Percy Sweetwater during the intervening decades. But he’s just had another birthday, and it’s come at a time when he’s begun to question his own role as a husband and father. Jonathan wonders whether he’d understand himself a little better if he understood his own father more, but since Percy has passed on, he’ll need to get his answers indirectly—from his mother, and from the five women who succeeded her as his father’s wives, none of whom he’s ever met before undertaking this impulsive, cross-country, trans-Atlantic mission.

Even in fiction, it’s neither easy nor likely to resolve the mysteries of a lifetime in less than two weeks, and by the time Jonathan meets the last of Percy’s widows, he understands that he’s really only beginning to ask the questions. While this feels honest, it’s also a bit frustrating, as Kristen of BookNAround reflects (spoiler warning):

”The connection between {Jonathan’s) wife’s infidelity and his father’s lifelong search for the perfect woman is tough to make. In all of his searching for explanations about his father, Jonathan doesn’t really seem to find any answers and he waffles between worries he’s too like his father or not at all like his father. His encounters with Percy’s ex-wives all seem to follow a similar pattern and do little to shed light on the real man. Interestingly, none of the ex-wives seem particularly surprised by Jonathan’s appearance in their lives despite his never being a presence while they were married to his father nor do they have much personal or revealing to say. They certainly can’t speak to how Percy’s behavior might have formed Jonathan’s character or why that would lead to his wife having an affair. At the end of his quest, he thinks he can explain why his father married each of the women but that still doesn’t really connect to his own marriage and relationship.”

While Greenberg’s desire to flesh out Jonathan as a character is commendable, it leads to a few story threads, primarily those involving his relationship with his boss and his work, that in some ways shortchange the central thread of a son learning about himself and his father through the women his father married. My Father’s Wives features appealing characters and an interesting premise, but in the end. it’s a novel that would be more satisfying if there were just more of it.

Jonathan Sweetwater has been blessed with money, a fulfilling career, great kids and Claire, his smart, gorgeous, sophisticated wife. But there is one thing Jonathan never had: a relationship with his father.

Percival Sweetwater III has been absent from his son’s life since Jonathan was nine years old. A five-term U.S. senator, now dead, Percy was beloved by presidents, his constituents, and women alike, especially the five women who married him after Jonathan’s mother.

Jonathan hasn’t thought about Percy or the hole he left in his life for years. Dedicated to Claire and his family, he’s nothing like his serial monogamist father. But then Jonathan discovers evidence that everything in his marriage may not be as perfect as he thought. Hurt and uncertain what to do, he knows that the only way to move forward is to go back.

On this quest for understanding—about himself, about manhood, about marriage—Jonathan decides to track down his father’s five ex-wives. His journey will take him from cosmopolitan cities to the mile-high mountains to a tropical island—and ultimately back to confront the one thing Jonathan has that his father never did: home.

Opening lines:

“I’ve been struck by lightning several times.

“Three, to be exact: once in high school, once in college, the last time afterward. None of them was my wife, by the way. You don’t marry the girl who strikes you like lightning, because that doesn’t last forever and you never know what you might be left with when it wears away.

“I assume it goes without saying I’m not being literal about the lightning.

“I mean it the way they did in The Godfather, when Michael first sees Apollonia: Italian countryside, exotic beauty who doesn’t speak your language. That’s the woman who hits you like lightning but you don’t marry her, because life isn’t in the Italian countryside, life is back in New York, where your brother is riddled with bullets under a toll-booth. And the girl you’ve fallen so hard for can’t drive and doesn’t speak English; good luck with that.

“So, I didn’t marry any of the women who struck me like lightning.”

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