‘What We Do for Love’ – Anne Pfeffer
Thirty-eight-year-old Nicole thinks finding love is like eating carbs. Both are bad for your system. The single mother prefers to focus on a few things that she cherishes–her sixteen-year-old son Justin, her friends, and her art.
When she convinces a major museum to show a piece of her work, and she thinks her career has finally turned a corner, her son brings home a girl, Daniela, to spend the night. Daniela’s parents have thrown her out of the house: she is pregnant with Justin’s child. Shattered, Nicole feels she has no choice but to take the girl in.
She finds herself falling in love with Daniela, but increasingly troubled by the behaviour of the girl’s icy, tormented mum and hard-drinking, hard-fisted dad.
Nicole struggles as fear and deceit enter her formerly peaceful life. Forced to deal with people she doesn’t trust or like, fearful for the future of both her son and the grandchild they’re expecting, Nicole wonders if she can do what she tells Justin to do: always have faith in yourself and do the right thing.
This novel shows how two crises can totally upend a family. Living in such a small house already, Pfeffer brings alive the sense of literal and metaphorical claustrophobia as Nicole, the protagonist, has to cope with a massive shift in her reality. Uncertain of the future, she has the world pressing down on her, leaving readers wondering how she will emerge from the crises.
I immediately warmed to all of the characters and found them all believable and realistic. Living in a small house, struggling to make ends meet, single parent Nicole is doing everything she can to ensure that she saves enough money to be able to fund her son’s further education. However, one day this all dramatically shifts when she learns that not only is she going to be producing a massive commission for a local business, (a ceramic display, absolutely huge, her first shot at producing something as a local artist,) but she is going to be a grandmother. Suddenly her celebratory news about her ceramic business is put on the back-burner as Nicole needs to support her son and his girlfriend with the unexpected pregnancy. The small house becomes tiny as Daniela moves in, swiftly followed by Nicole’s sister, due to her failing marriage. The pressures the Nicole experiences, both artistically and financially were successfully captured by the writer and I found I could really believe and understand what Nicole was feeling.
Pfeffer introduces a more sinister tone to the story with the involvement of Daniela’s family. At first, readers understand that her mother and father have disowned her because of the pregnancy. However, when readers learn that there is more to the situation than Daniela has already explained, Nicole, her family and friends are suddenly fearing for their safety. Now, the small house on the secluded hilltops is no longer safe; feeling vulnerable and distrustful, it is like they are awaiting the eventual climax to the story.
The relationship between Nicole and Mike is an interesting one. He is definitely the attractive protector and friend of Nicole – just the man required when things start to get hairy with Daniela’s father. As a reader, I was desperate for Nicole and Mike to rekindle their relationship and to move out of their long-established “friend-zone”. However, it is more complicated for Nicole as she is still haunted by her ex-husband’s demeaning comments and fears rejection. Pfeffer keeps the reader hanging for most of the story as to whether the two will be able to realise their true feelings for one another.
I did not expect the final plot twists and this definitely added to my enjoyment of the novel. Making the plot seem more fresh, I found this an easy read to immerse myself into. Maybe one could argue that the plot was a little obvious, but this is not a criticism and sometimes exactly what a reader is looking for when discovering a new book. I enjoyed that this was a stand-alone and not the start of the series as at times, I feel there are too many series’ on the go and never enough opportunities to complete them.
This was a satisfying, uncomplicated read that I really enjoyed. It gave a sense of escapism and I enjoyed the unusual plot twists towards the end.
I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
Anne Pfeffer bio:
Award-winning novelist Anne Pfeffer grew up in Phoenix, Arizona reading prodigiously, riding horses, and avoiding rattlesnakes and scorpions. After living in Chicago and New York, she escaped back to the land of sunshine in Los Angeles. She has worked in banking and as a pro bono attorney, representing abandoned children in adoption and guardianship proceedings. Anne has a daughter living in New York and is the author of four books in the YA/New Adult genres.
Whilst having the opportunity to read and review this book, I was also able to interview the author, Anne Pfeffer…
Nicole very much compartmentalises her life in order to deal with things. Is that something you find you also do?
Maybe a little. It’s useful to compartmentalise your mind to stay focused on a certain job or task until it’s done. Nicole, however, does it to the point of denial— her way of avoiding things she doesn’t want to deal with.
Nicole’s creative outlet is her pottery and ceramics. Aside from writing, what other creative hobbies do you have?
I have what I guess I would call serial creative outlets. For the last ten years, it’s been writing, which I don’t think of as a hobby. Before that, I painted ceramics and did scrap-booking. Also a brief foray into knitting, which never really took hold!
Nicole’s household becomes very strained during the story – to be expected! How do you think you would cope in Nicole’s situation?
I guess the same way I always deal with stress—try to stay calm and think through what I have to do. Gather information. Make a plan. Try to put my kid’s needs first.
I might be a bit more analytical about it than Nicole was. She’s more the emotional artist type. Also, I’d be more of a scaredy-cat under those circumstances, more like Caroline. Nicole doesn’t frighten easily.
The reveal about Daniela and her mother was unexpected. What inspired you to take the plot in this direction?
It just sort of came to me. When I started the book, I wasn’t planning on taking the direction it eventually took. When I thought of it, though, I realised it worked really well for my story. Sorry, I’m not saying much because I don’t want to give out spoilers.
How do you select the names of your characters?
I try to make them age appropriate, i.e. I figure out the decade my character was born in and give them a popular name for that time. I also make it country specific, ie. I often consult lists of popular names in the United States. Viviana, being Chilean, has a verified Hispanic name, as does her daughter, Daniela.
Finally, I try to choose names that are distinct from one another in the novel—names that start with different letters, have different stresses and numbers of syllables, etc. Nicole, Justin, Caroline, Mike, and so forth.
For our readers out there, what is your favourite, under-appreciated novel?
Hard to say. One book I really liked that I’d never heard of was Indigo Girl, a terrific historical fiction novel set during the American Revolution. Whether that book is genuinely under-appreciated or not, I don’t really know. It was just new to me.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
I knew Kryptonite had to do with Superman, but I had to look it up in order to answer this question. These days, my writing Kryptonite is my physical condition. It has become increasingly hard on my hands, arms, and shoulders to sit at a computer and type. It hurts!
I’m going to have to learn how to write aloud, if I can find some better voice-recognition software than Siri, which seems to dislike me.
Nicole struggled to feel inspired for her ceramics display. What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
Getting started. My first draft, and even the second, are awful, because I don’t know what I’m saying. . I find a blank screen very hard to fill. My character’s voice is all wrong: I don’t know her yet. My action gets written and re-written, because I haven’t nailed down the plot yet.
Then at some point, I hook into it, and it becomes fun. I know who my characters are and how the book will end. That’s the best part of writing.