Reviewer Sue Ayers: Sue is a freelance writer
residing in Richmond, VA. She is a graduate of Virginia
Commonwealth University where she received a bachelor’s degree in
English. Ayers is a frequent contributor to many popular sites and
also blogs about staying sane in a crazy world at her WEBSITE
Three women, three different generations, and one house can only mean a nervous breakdown may be imminent for one (or all) of them. And, of course, it’s true in Ruth Pennebaker’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough. The author combines humor and poignancy to superbly illustrate the ups and downs of a grandmother, mother and daughter all sharing one living space. It’s probably not easy for many authors to capture three distinct personalities from three different age brackets and portray their thoughts, feelings and actions in a believable way. Yet Pennebaker is extremely astute in her ability to convey the complex thoughts that swirl through the heads of these women. She remarkably conveys Caroline’s teenage angst simultaneously with Joanie’s middle-age worries and Ivy’s golden year confusion in an absolutely believable manner. I found myself reeling with laughter at Pennebaker’s brilliant humor.
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough addresses very compelling issues that most families face. Joanie must come to terms with not being the favored child; Ivy must grasp the reality that her son, the favorite, wants very little to do with her or the rest of the family. Caroline goes to zany lengths to be noticed in her attempts to be popular which leave her, literally, falling on her face. It is refreshing to see her moment of reckoning as she matures and handles her first failed crush with aplomb. This book is filled with unobtrusive ironies. I found myself having mini “aha moments” when I came to certain realizations, such as the moment it finally occurred to me that Joanie wants from her own mother what she had been too distracted to give her own daughter.
The author notably captures the essence of Caroline to whom Ivy’s entire existence is a personal affront. She captures Ivy’s peculiar, old-fashioned values that seemed ideal back in her day but are outdated for the times, such as how she feels that men and women try to communicate too much instead of being content with silence and that this somehow contributes to the high divorce rate today. She is so believable in her convictions even when they border on the absurd.
Pennebaker has no problem blending other, minor characters into the book and each one has considerable personality and individuality. With Joanie, we meet Zoe, the boss on the verge of her own breakdown; Bruce, the steady colleague and confidant; Richard the bastard ex-husband and BJ, the girlfriend we want to dislike but can’t. With Ivy, we meet Lupe, the unlikely pseudo-friend and with Caroline, we meet the ‘born to be a wing-man’ Sonia, who may never have her own life as she vicariously lives through her best friend.
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough is a must read! It has every component of an excellent story - humor, sadness, tension, and a full, refreshing cast of characters that will undoubtedly remind you of someone right in your own family.