Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe
Jennie Shortridge
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Buy *Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe* by Jennie Shortridge online

Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe
Jennie Shortridge
NAL Trade
400 pages
May 2008
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Mira Serafino is dilemma-ridden. She lives in a small-town Pacifica, Oregon, where everyone knows her business before she does. Born into a wildly immense Italian family and married to her college sweetheart, her oncoming menopause hits her like a Mack truck. The skid marks she leaves behind impact her life and her loved ones as if they too have been hit by the same out-of-control truck.

Mira is 45, a dangerous age for one who considers her personal (though made-up) patron saint to be Saint Mira, absorber of all family pain. She is driven to excel in all areas of her life – wife, mother, daughter, and teacher at the local school. Her best friend, Lannie, can see the Mack truck scenario coming closer in Mira’s life, but Lannie is true to herself in a way that Mira has not yet discovered. Lannie is the best friend every woman deserves: she dresses to please herself, has combined her loves into one store (a Yarn and Music store), and although she is willing to provide wise council, she won’t interfere in Mira’s life, or negate her choices.

Perhaps this book is a warning to us all not to feel complacent about our lives, for as Mira congratulates herself on her marriage, family and job, she is sideswiped by the news that her husband has been seeing another woman. Hit hard with that news and in a downward spiral about her teen daughter joining a vegetarian commune that supports itself selling weed, she struggles to come up for air.

Dashing to her daddy for solstice and advice, she finds her widowed father has a life of his own and, after 25 years of being alone, he has a lover. This is such a heartbreaker for Mira that she can only think of one thing – escape. And not just any casual escape either. She heads out on the highway with no destination in mind and ends up in the Fremont district of Seattle. Before she even has time to think about it, she is ensconced as manager of a coffee bar, handling immature baristas and an owner who would rather surf than serve, and drawn more and more into sexual temptation. Her beloved pooch, Patsy Cline, is the only thing she has brought with her from her former life, but what can such a small dog, albeit dedicated and loving, provide to the lost and searching Mira?

This book is difficult to read sometimes as it deals with raw emotion, ongoing temptation, and the struggle for self with which most can identify. It is also hard to understand how Mira can plummet so far out of control, for now she is giving in to temptations she would have never considered three months ago. On the other hand, DID she deal well with past enticements? The book begins to delve into Mira’s past thoughts and experiences, and it becomes increasingly evident that the tight lid that Mira has kept on her “perfect” life was only a cover for the desires with which she has long struggled. There was the sexy plumber in her past, for instance, and now the carefree surfer buddy of her boss. It doesn’t help that she hasn’t even tried to keep in touch with her family, although Lannie knows where she is. She has smashed her old cell phone and tried to draw a line in the sand between her past and present selves.

Slowly the pieces begin to come together for Mira as unexpected hints of reality sneak into her life. She realizes that her husband has not stopped service to her cell phone, so she retrieves the messages left and hears a long range of angry, frustrated, and painful messages from her daughter. Their parting was acrimonious, but it becomes evident that daughter Thea’s anguish is real and that she misses her mom dreadfully. Yet Mira is beginning to like and honor her new self and is reluctant to face the mess she left behind. It is at this point that friend Lannie takes matters into her own hands, and shows up with the whole family in tow, including husband, daddy, daughter, assorted dogs, lovers and friends. Mira is forced to acknowledge the pain she has caused and comes to realize that just because she was hurting, she should not have created so much suffering in the lives those she loves.

Not every woman (or man) has similar struggles with mid-life issues, but reading Jennie Shortridge’s beautifully nuanced book will give voice to many commonplace issues we face as we grow older. Even though we may not escape as powerfully as Mira did, we can create space and comfort in our lives in order to address the validity of who we are and what we are feeling. A remarkable writer, and a thought-provoking book for everyone’s bookshelf.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Laura Strathman Hulka, 2008

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