This is Where We live
Janelle Brown

Speigel & Grau
Hardcover/316 pages
ISBN: 978-0385524032
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". . .a fantastic job of detailing the real world."

“Good things happen every time an angel smiles, so you just have to be patient and keep smiling at the heavens – eventually they’ll smile back.” That’s what Claudia’s mother always told her as she was growing up. Of course, Claudia had no idea that the “adult” world would end up to be so ridiculously difficult that she’d be absolutely desperate for an angel to even toss her a small grin. Leaving her childhood home in Mount Washington, Claudia races to Hollywood. She’s wanted nothing more in her entire life than to be a famous director.

As we begin this extremely poignant story, Claudia’s big night has finally arrived. For a moment, she feels like the shaking that is coursing through her body is just wave after wave of nerves for her big Hollywood debut. What it really is, however, is an earthquake. The pictures fall off the wall; the crystal dances across the table and shatters on the floor; and, her beloved husband Jeremy races from the bathroom and takes her into his arms – protecting her from the earth’s wrath. Thankfully, the quake is a small one, and Jeremy and Claudia survive to race to the theatre and see her first indie-achievement called, Spare Parts, which she sold at the Sundance Film Festival.

Jeremy and Claudia are completely and utterly in love. They are people with big dreams who want nothing more than for their dreams to become reality. Jeremy’s dream is music. Years before, he lived in New York and was part of a band that was quirky, but had a good following. He’s older now, with new band members, and they’ve been working tirelessly to get their first album finished so that the world can, once again, fall in love with Jeremy. During the making of his dream, Jeremy fell in love with Claudia and married her. They’ve also purchased their first home – a lovely little house located in the mountains where they will begin their life together – waiting for the time that is surely coming soon when they can move to bigger and better digs because of their new found fame and glory.

As with all dreams, they are hard-fought, and soon Claudia’s film heads to the theaters and directly back out – making not even a blip on the Hollywood screen. Jeremy finds his band members talking more and more about marriage, children, and real life, making it clear that they’re too old for that rock-and-roll pipe dream anymore. When things begin to go south for the happy couple, Jeremy finds himself at a job he can’t stand, and Claudia takes a job teaching film appreciation at a local private school. Neither one is doing anything close to what they love, but the bank is about to foreclose on their property and the state of the economy has made them enter into “adulthood” whether they wanted to or not.

One thing in Jeremy’s past is a painter by the name of Aoki. Aoki was Jeremy’s first real girlfriend and their break-up was harsh. She was the woman before his precious Claudia; and, unlike his wife, Aoki was self-appreciative, mean, cold, and certainly out for herself. The one thing Jeremy has kept from his days with the woman is a huge painting she made of him years before. Jeremy begins to think back on his life with Aoki. He sees that she is now a famous, super-rich painter who has taken the art world by storm. With each new monotonous day – as the bills, house, work, and life that he’s built with his wife becomes unbelievably boring – Jeremy finds himself wondering what it would’ve been like for him if he’d stayed with Aoki and lived the “high life” without a care or trouble in the world. When his ex contacts him through email, Jeremy’s whole belief system begins to unravel – trying to decide whether or not to be the faithful, dutiful husband with an astronomical mortgage, or return to the woman who certainly has the contacts to make his dream come true.

The author has done a fantastic job of detailing the real world. The American economy, as we all know, went from entitled and easy to devastatingly hard. A great many people had to put what they loved to do on the back burners to work jobs they can’t stand just to keep their heads above water, and the sacrifices have even brought people to the brink of suicide…and beyond. This is an intriguing tale of what a true partnership must go through in order to keep the “dream” going while still trying to get through the day to day “reality” of life.

Reviewer: Amy E. Lignor