Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication Date: February 2016
Format: Hardcover, 336 pgs
Influences often play a part in our lives. How many times have we been influenced by someone who has different thought/taste from us? Influential can help pushes one to be a better person or to a higher place if they are positive; likewise they can also be negative if they are portrayed wrongly or unwisely.
This book tells a tale of a single mother and her eight-year-old son under the influences of others and how their lives change after meeting the Havillands couple.
Helen McCabe's first meeting with Swift and Ava Havilland was at an art gallery opening. Her life is going through a transition then as a DUI conviction has caused her to lose not only her driver's license but the custody of her son, Oliver, as well. She still gets to see Oliver on Saturdays, but it is nothing like seeing and holding Oliver everyday. Oliver used to enjoy the time spent with his mother, now he becomes quiet and his attention focuses only on TV and any portable gaming device after he has moved to his father's place. Helen's life is miserable; her photography job is getting nowhere and she spends most evenings at AA meetings after the DUI charge. But after meeting Swift and Ava, Helen feels like she has suddenly found a direction to leading a better life and that is to forge a friendship with them and to gain their trust.
Becoming friends with the Havillands seems easy to Helen as they are philanthropists and they are passionate animal lovers. Their kindness on the homeless and helpless always leave Helen in awe and despite Ava suffers from a spinal cord injury and has to be confined in a wheelchair, it never stops her from doing the good deeds. Helen never questions her injury, and Ava never talks about it, either. Ava soon trusted Helen enough to give her a photography/cataloguing job capturing pictures of her art collections at home and invite her to all their parties. It is like Helen has become part of their family.
Then Helen meets Elliot, a quiet and uncool accountant on an online dating site and they hit it off quickly. However, the Havillands disapprove of her new love and dismiss him as boring. Helen likes Elliot a lot, but she also doesn't want the Havillands to think differently of her. After all, they are her only friends and her "saviour". Plus, they play an important role in Oliver's life. Oliver has fallen under Swift's charm and looks up to him like a father he never gets. Then tragedy strikes and Oliver has witnessed a devastating accident that would threaten Helen's friendship with the Havillands.
Under the Influence might come off as a slow start in the beginning as we get to glimpse into Helen's unhappy life and see how she forms a friendship with the Havillands. Both Swift and Ava make an intriguing couple; they are the "backbone" of this story and you will be charmed by their generosity, their ever cheerful and positive traits in life; just like the way Helen did. As much as they appear to be a perfect, glamorous couple, there is something about their perfection which makes you question about them and the momentum only begins when Helen meets Elliot and we start to see a small crack in their friendship. Then, the story shifts quickly and even have that little feel of a thriller which had me very engrossed with the ending.
Although this is a story about influences, it is also very much a story about consuming friendship, of being fitting in and of possession. It was a captivating story which had me sympathise with Helen. Her love and her yearn for Oliver's custody broke my heart and all the time while reading this story I'd hope she would get a happy life, with or without the Havillands. I like Joyce Maynard's writing and her storytelling since I read her previous novel, After Her and I was glad to note this latest release didn't disappoint. Now I need to go check out her earlier books.