When Sara Beth Riley leaves a note for her best friend in New York City, she’s reached a precipice: do something to change the stagnant, painful way her life has changed or . . . well, there is no “or.”
After her mother’s untimely death, Sara Beth flounders in the wake of her loss and ruined dreams. Once planning to open an antiques shop together, Sara Beth doesn’t know how to press on without her mom’s encouragement and support. She also doesn’t plan to get pregnant again in her late thirties, just as her two oldest daughters are becoming strong and independent, nor to find herself at a crossroads in her comfortable, well-worn marriage.
But everything changes. Away on a girls’ weekend with Rachel, her longtime best friend, Sara Beth hatches a crazy plan: to simply walk away from her chaos and grief, from her uncertainty and anger and desperation, for a few blissful days. She leaves a note explaining the circumstances to Rachel and begs for understanding, asking her not to contact Tom, her husband, and not to upset her family. Sara Beth will be fine, she reassures; she just needs some time to herself.
Thus begins Joanne DeMaio’s Whole Latte Life, an interesting look at one woman’s attempt to redefine her life. A wife and busy mother, a harried woman with a stack of unrealized dreams, it’s hard not to sympathize with Sara Beth. Having an infant son in her forties has certainly changed the trajectory of her life, and her mother’s death has completely derailed her. Once content with Tom and their two girls, their family of five has forced her to reexamine everything. And when she realizes it’s time to do something drastic, she goes whole hog.
But this is not just Sara Beth’s story. Recently widowed and newly forty herself, Rachel’s world changes after agreeing to give Sara Beth a “free” weekend in New York. It comes at a cost, of course; Sara Beth’s family does learn of her “stepping out” — and the reaction isn’t positive. That’s where my beef with the story comes in: her husband goes nuts. After the worry of where she is subsides, Tom completely overreacts. I agree that Sara Beth could have, you know, simply asked for a weekend away to do what she wanted. She didn’t need to ditch Rachel and go completely off the grid. Tom might have thrown a fit about it, I guess, but the guy seemed pretty jerky to me.
Gah, yes — Tom was a jerk. It’s really just hitting me now, reflecting back, but I physically recoiled after Sara Beth reunited with the Riley clan and Tom goes on this tirade about how their family home is now his house, and she’s basically a guest after “abandoning” them. I’m sorry — what? Because she turned her cell phone off for a few days on a prearranged weekend away, Sara Beth has now “walked away” from their family? It just seemed . . . ludicrous. After enjoying a relatively drama-free relationship for however many years, Tom is shunning his wife and kicking her out of the house?
I kept trying to remember these overblown reactions and suffocating atmosphere were exactly what caused Sara Beth to go on her personal odyssey, but it was hard to imagine anyone actually acting that way. I know I’m not a married mother of three and it certainly wasn’t good that Sara Beth disappeared on Rachel, but she’s really the only person I felt was entitled to her anger. And Rachel wasn’t even that mad! She met a cute cop in New York and the wheels of the heart got a’ spinnin’ again! So what was Tom all fired up about? Obviously way more than Sara Beth not answering her phone for a few days. And that’s the real issue, of course.
Whole Latte Life worked best for me as a moving exploration of maternal love. Sara Beth’s mom is very much alive through DeMaio’s eloquent prose, and the grief surrounding her loss was palpable. When she begins writing emails to her mother in an attempt to somehow maintain a connection with her, I got tears in my eyes. Sara Beth’s connection to her mom was instrumental in the relationship she hoped to forge with her own young daughters, but her grieving — huge, dark — overshadowed everything. Sara Beth was obviously just a woman deeply hurting, and she really needed a hug. And some counseling. Did I agree with her actions throughout the story? No, not at all. But I didn’t agree with anyone else’s, either. It was just a complicated situation.
Women’s fiction fans and those who enjoy family dynamics, explorations of motherhood and the extreme bond of female friendships will find plenty to enjoy in Whole Latte Life. Though I was often frustrated with the characters, especially Tom, I read this one quickly and felt invested in Sara Beth’s journey. I wanted her to find solace in reinvention and gain the peace she was desperately seeking.
3.5 out of 5!