My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The main character in A Penny's Worth reminded me of the line “Hell is other people” from Jean-Paul Sartre's play No Exit. Sara is a weak woman, who struggles to assert herself throughout the story, but is defined instead, by what others think of her. Here's a quote from the point of view of the favorite mistress of Sara's husband:
Carmela rolled her eyes dramatically and fell against the sofa. “Here we go again with Sara's pathetic attempt to gain respect. Next thing you know, she'll be threatening all of us with the wrath of her big brother. Give it up already, Sara. Your style is stale.”
The trouble is, Carmela is right. Sara has trouble sticking with her goals, whether they are struggles for romance or for self preservation.
Before he died, Sara's father ran a successful strip club in Las Vegas, which is where she works now. She tries to act like the club's boss, but no one pays attention. Instead the club is run by her brother Luke and her husband Ezra. Sara believes they are both increasing the club's profit margin through criminal activities and she knows they are both partying regularly with the club's dancers, which seems to be common practice in their workplace.
Sara wavers between supporting her husband despite his wayward ways and wanting to leave him. These conflicting goals come out in strange ways, including bigoted language. Her husband is, in her thoughts, “a non-conforming Jew,” although he does know the religion well enough to understand terms such as “Shema Yisrael.” Sara fell in love with Ezra and married him. Yet she demonstrates a dislike of Jews in general through her language, by using terms like “The Jewish nymph” and “some Jewish floozy.” Also, despite wanting to leave her husband, Sara responds to the way Carmela flaunts her relationship with Ezra by proving she's all the woman Ezra needs sexually. She thinks of this type of inconsistent behavior as a reaction to “the roller coaster of emotions she was riding,” but it felt more like a personality flaw.
I liked the way Cynthia Austin used pop culture in her writing with references to things like “the Dos Equis man” and Margaret Keane's paintings. Those choices drew me into her novel. There were also some tense moments in the story that kept me turning the pages.
This book has adult themes and sexually graphic scenes.
Steve Lindahl – author of Under a Warped Cross, Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul
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