Author: Ruth Pennebaker
Publisher: Berkley Books
ISBN: 978-0-425-23856-1

Click Here To Purchase Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough

In “Women on the Verge..” , Pennebaker’s first novel for adults, three women struggle to survive economic recession, heartbreak, teenaged angst and each other in the wake of a messy divorce. . Forty nine year old Joanie finds herself reluctant guardian to her bankrupt septuagenarian mother, a sullen teenaged daughter, and all the residual rage from a failed marriage.Meanwhile, her ex husband Richard gleefully enjoys a happy new life without her, complete with a swish new house and wardrobe, and an alarmingly young – and pregnant- fiancée. Her fractious relationship with her mother Ivy is tested to its limits, and replayed again in her futile attempts  to communicate with fifteen year old Caroline, nerdy social outcast at school and uneasy witness to the thinly disguised hostilities between her estranged parents. Meanwhile Ivy spends her time ‘Goggling’ trivia on the computer, writing sad little emails to her distant son, and shoplifting.

This is territory well trodden by other writers – dysfunctional families, women in crises finding their inner strengths, teenagers teetering on the brink of lust and utter humiliation. You already
know, as you delve deeper into these troubled lives that things are about to get a lot worse before they get better. And sure enough, “worse” appears in the form of B.J, Richard’s childish fiancée, with secrets of her own, and a pregnancy not quite as accidental as she would have people believe. Throw in a routine involving Grandma and a batch of hash brownies, Caroline’s pitiful crush on a clearly manipulative classmate, and Joanie’s strained relations with just about everything and everyone, and you can pretty much picture the maelstrom these women – and we, their readers - are headed for. Except that we aren't..  


Pennebaker writes with empathy; her love for her characters is evident in the way she walks us through their turmoiled lives and confused inner voices- these are complex, flawed, often annoying women and  yet, viewing them through the lens of Pennebaker’s writing, it is hard to dislike them. But it is also a love that reins the potential zaniness of her narrative in,   steering her characters away from the various disasters they encounter, towards the happy ending she so clearly wants them to find (as the title itself shows). Ivy’s brush with weed and crime go almost unnoticed; Caroline is saved from social suicide – and sexual humiliation – by a conveniently timed epiphany. Yet another epiphany arrives just in time to help her bond with her family and give us the heart warming ending we already know awaits. Joanie, swept away by booze and lust at the office party, finds only love, peer respect and liberation on the other side. Even needy  little B.J, finds love and acceptance with the family of her reluctant fiancée. In contrast to these sharply crafted characters, the few men that punctuate the plot feel one dimensional –cheating Richard, cunning Henry, reliable and conveniently hunky Bruce.

A breezy, feel good story that will leave you smiling and nodding, but also a little dissatisfied.


Click Here To Purchase Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough