Book review: ‘The Good Woman’ by Jane Porter


On the outside, Meg Brennan Roberts is the very portrait of it. Attractive and successful, Meg manages to weave her three kids’ schedules in seamlessly with full-time work at a winery in scenic Napa Valley, California. Her husband, an architect, is a good provider — even if Jack is distant lately, a bit absent-minded. At work, Meg feels happy and sophisticated; at home, she feels like she’s drowning. And with three younger sisters battling issues and a parent facing illness, Meg feels . . . tired. Cold. Desperate for escape, for something more.

But there are consequences.

It’s been a while since I sank into a book like Jane Porter’s The Good Woman. From the description above, you might think, “Eh, great — another story about a mid-life crisis.” And to be fair? It sort of is. It’s obvious Jack isn’t paying Meg much attention. After 17 years of marriage, he’s just sort of . . . around. Not helping with the kids, not helping with things around the house. Not showing Meg any care and affection. Just there.

The events following Meg’s realization of discontent are gradual — so gradual it took me a while to realize what was happening. But I liked that about it. Porter’s pace is deliberate, and she lets us into Meg’s head often enough to feel the frustration and boredom without playing all her cards at once. Though I felt parts of the narrative became repetitive (Meg hadn’t felt this way in so long, Meg just needed something more), Porter’s in-depth exploration of her main character’s emotions made this book for me.

While The Good Woman stays firmly in the present, flashbacks to the Brennan sisters’ childhood and teenage years provide backdrop for how Meg — sanctimoniously called “Sister Mary Margaret” by a sneering sister — became such a control freak. Known as an extreme perfectionist, Meg is the quintessential “good woman”: a good wife, good mother, good daughter. She works so hard to maintain these ideals that she rarely pauses to figure out what she wants. And who hasn’t felt that way?

Honestly, as the eldest of five kids (four of them women), just about anyone born into that large Irish-American family would struggle under the collective weight of expectation. The Brennan sisters, all at various stages of their lives, are dealing with some heavy stuff — and Meg tries to be there for all of them (save free spirit Bree). When she finally cracks, succumbing to a handsome man’s advances, I didn’t feel nearly as annoyed with her as I should have. By the time the real stuff goes down, we’ve bonded with her. I felt like I knew her. And while not excusing the behavior, I just felt really sorry for her.

The Good Woman is more than mommy-breakdown-lit — and more than a book on infidelity. With three-dimensional characters, a captivating storyline and many emotional twists, Porter’s first in a new trilogy centered on the Brennan women held me hostage. I devoured the book in less than a week, picking it up whenever I had a few minutes, and will eagerly anticipate the next novel in the series.

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 0425253007 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor website
Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for my honest review

Napa Valley comes to life in ‘The Good Woman’

A fellow blogger and fellow Meg created a feature I’m thrilled to run with: Literary Locale, which focuses on the settings of the books we’re currently reading. Visit A Bookish Affair to join in the fun.

Paging through Jane Porter’s The Good Woman, set in Napa Valley, it’s impossible not to feel the warm California sun on your face.

Main character Meg (good name!) works at a winery with an irresistible pair of brothers, offering tastings to tourists and marketing the vineyard’s signature wines. Having visited Napa and Sonoma last summer, I had such an immediate and visceral reaction to this story. It was really good — juicy and evocative and emotional and intense — but I’ll get to all that in a full review Monday.

For now? Let’s talk Napa. As I was reading The Good Woman, Nicholson Ranch was completely in my head. It was one of the early stops on our vacation — and couldn’t have been more picturesque and stunning. Hard to imagine what could have bee more “Napa”-esque than Nicholson, honestly, and I loved our visit here — from the tour of the wine cellars to the fabulous lunch to the walk among the vines.

Though I’m not the biggest wine drinker you’ll ever meet, I just love the atmosphere of a vineyard. It’s intoxicating. And for an East Coast girl used to the bustle and chaos of a metropolitan area, the free and easy vibe of vintners hanging out in the warm, dry heat is very alluring. More than once on that trip, I pictured packing up my books and boots due west. It’s just hard to feel unhappy in a place like that. And, you know, the copious amounts of wine don’t hurt.

Something the fictional Meg and I have in common!

So what’s up with Napa? Well, Napa County was one of California’s original counties — created along with California’s statehood in 1850. Though the first commercial vineyard was established in 1858, Napa has only been heavily promoting its bustling wine industry since the 1960s. Hard to believe an area so synonymous with vineyards has only been around half a century, but hey — they’re obviously doin’ something right.

The area’s wine prowess can be attributed to its unique combination of geography, Mediterranean climate and geology of Northern California, according to Wikipedia — all of which combine to grow quality wine grapes. Today, Napa is home to more than 450 wineries that grow many varieties of grapes, including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel and more.

By the end of our stay in Napa, it felt like we’d sampled them all — especially as we coasted along on the Wine Train, where I had the most delicious cheese platter of all time. I was actually wine-d out by the time we left for Sacramento, and that’s really saying something.

Not a bad one in the lot.