The Restaurant Critic’s Wife by Elizabeth LaBan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book draws on themes that are close to my heart: the struggle between work-life and being a mother, the effect of parenthood on marriage, and the necessity of tending to friendships and your spouse.
That said, the characters weren’t always my favorite. Lila is our protagonist, a former hotel crisis executive who is currently, begrudgingly, a stay-at-home mother in Philadelphia where she has recently moved with her family to support her husband’s job as a restaurant critic. Sam is Lila’s husband and the restaurant critic. Lila is lonely and secretive. Sam is controlling and obtuse.
It feels like there is very little interaction between Lila and Sam throughout the book. Lila occasionally tries to reach Sam but he is both literally, since he is often in disguise, and figuratively, unavailable.
Perhaps this is what it is like to support your partner or become a mother and lose your old identity, in some ways. But, you find ways back to each other, if you are with the right person. I suppose in their own way they do find their way back to each other anew. Yet, their relationship seems secondary to everything else: jobs, food, aunts, spy gear, everything. Even when Lila and Sam finally do sit down to get everything on the table, I felt like Lila does not even tell Sam how she feels and Sam just makes a bunch of assumptions. It feels too quick and tidy and unrealistic.
Sam bothers me. I really want to like him since I would think being a restaurant critic would be a very unique and interesting job. But he’s controlling of whom Lila befriends to the point of absurdity. He is barely around for his own kids. His communication with his wife is always an afterthought. Was his father like this to his mother (and that’s why she left)? I think the parents are provided to offer some insight into our main characters. Perhaps Sam should listen to his dad and get off the grid.
I get the feeling that when Lila and Sam fell in love that Sam was dynamic and interesting and caring but that man rarely shows up, if at all. Even when he does finally cook Thanksgiving dinner, he is incredibly distracted. I had hoped to meet the original Sam that swept Lila off her feet again but he appears to be gone and the replacement does not cut it (for me).
Lila is an interesting woman. She’s smart and not too sure about motherhood, even two kids in. She has an interesting journey which I enjoyed. She tries to define herself given the new dual role of mother and supportive wife that has stolen away her need for her custom-made suitcase and access to most of her friends. Lila works very hard to handle all that she is asked to balance. Sometimes she drops things. Sometimes she is far too secretive and should communicate better with Sam. But she labors to find a way to give everyone in her life what they need while still finding a tiny space for the parts of herself she once loved. Lila does come to some realizations and does begin to transition comfortably from her former high powered self to a newer less polished mom.
But I wanted more for her and Sam. Or perhaps a deeper connection between Lila and one of her neighbors. Those connections may be on the horizon but it would have been nicer for me, to see them blossom (or return).
The twist about who stole the picture of Sam and gave it to some of the restaurants was a good one.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. If this book has a sequel, I’d read it if it focused on the good things that motherhood can bring: deeper friendships with woman, a stronger sense of partnership with your spouse, among others. The account of what kids and careers can do to your life and how things change feels honest including the overwhelming, unrelenting loneliness that Lila often feels.
Thank you to both Lake Union Publishing and Netgalley for providing me with a free advance copy of this book in exchange for this honest review.
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