Elise Chidley’s debut novel, Your Roots Are Showing, is a fine example of the contemporary, intelligent chick/mom lit novel that I’m coming to expect from 5 Spot Publishing, who are fast becoming one of my favourite publishers. Connecticut based Elise, who is married with three children, has written a very accessible and sometimes touching, romantic story. Your Roots Are Showing is about the break-up of Lizzie Buckley’s ostensibly seamless marriage with her handsome, wealthy, architect husband, James, in Gloucestershire, England, and the subsequent journey she embarks upon to win him back.
My favourite character in this book was neither Lizzie nor James, and certainly not her annoying, brittle and exercise-obsessed best friend Tessa (whom I immediately envisioned as the Embeth Davidtz character, Amy, in the HBO series, In Treatment); it was Lizzie’s neighbour, and potential new love interest, Bruno Ardis, who seemed to have the most going on beneath the surface, and late in the novel we find out that is definitely the truth. For the record, I wouldn’t blame the guy one bit for making the choice he makes in the end.
Lizzie, still in love with her husband, but angry, frustrated and frightened to find herself moving her three-year-old twins, Ellie and Alex, out of her husband’s picturesque cottage (on the property of his rich, snobby parents’ estate) into a rental cottage in Kent that needs more than a little love to make it inhabitable, is a character that I really wanted to like. And I did, at first. However, as the story progressed, I found myself wanting to smack her and/or take her by the shoulders and shake her silly because she constantly jumped to conclusions about what her soon-to-be-ex-husband was up to and she was downright disagreeable to the affable Bruno.
Elise touches upon the subject of post partum depression in Your Roots Are Showing, but never really delves into it with any substance, which is for me, the most disappointing aspect of this novel. I think that if she had focused on that issue, which is the excuse for why Lizzie lets herself go physically and ends up inadvertently sending a scathing email about how uninterested she is in her husband – meant for her sister – to James, spurring him to walk out on their marriage, I would have had a lot more empathy for Lizzie and would have liked her more. As it was, Lizzie, who couldn’t find a reason to love herself or understand why her husband had chosen her as a partner in the first place, was constantly making statements about herself and others that left me cringing.
Lizzie finds herself binge-eating because of her depression and gaining weight (she was a ghastly size 12 at her heaviest, heaven forbid!), choosing to hide under sweat pants and old t-shirts with unwashed hair and portraying herself as a victim of an unreasonable husband who walked out on her. Through Tessa’s constant badgering to start running, Lizzie finally acquiesces and in no time finds herself addicted to the sport, her endorphins and the thrill she gets from seeing her body change. I can understand this reaction completely, but as a single, overweight, unnatural redhead, I found statements like the following rather insulting:
“She had red hair. Real red hair, not the dyed variety. In most people, this was a misfortune. If somebody had come up to Lizzie and said, “James is going out with a redhead,” Lizzie would’ve been relieved. Even a little incredulous. Chuh, she’d have thought, couldn’t he do any better than that?”
Or, at her friend Maria’s wedding:
“But she wasn’t prepared to stand in the lineup of single women waiting to catch the bride’s bouquet. She wasn’t that much of a sport. Several voices, made loud and tactless by too much wine, urged her to join the spinsters…”
I find the word “spinster” to be a harsh and outdated way of describing single women, don’t you?
Lizzie assumes that if she changes herself physically, she will finally be worthy of love. I get that she is trying to find herself as a woman (and a writer of children’s verse) and not just as a wife and mother, but it’s the way in which she gets there that bothers me because I’m not sure Chidley is sending a positive message to other women through her character.
Even though I feel this way, I did enjoy the story and the supporting characters, Ingrid the nosey neighbour, Sarah the babysitter, and James’ empathetic father, and it is certainly true that “sometimes the fairytale ending is just the beginning of the real story.” I can picture Your Roots Are Showing (a.k.a. The Wrong Sort of Wife in the UK) as a movie and wouldn’t have any trouble recommending it to other women who enjoy reading chick/mom lit. Elise Chidley is a respectable writer with potential for a bestseller and I genuinely look forward to reading more of her work in the future.
For a preview of Elise’s current project, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Power Moms, a compilation to which she contributes, check out this video trailer on YouTube: