The Hazards of Sleeping Alone
Elise Juska
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The Hazards of Sleeping Alone

Elise Juska
Downtown Press
400 pages
September 2004
rated 5 of 5 possible stars
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In The Hazards of Sleeping Alone, Charlotte and Joe are the parents of Emily, a twenty-two-year-old teacher at a school that has an “alternative learning environment” - meaning there are no grades, no exams and no specific ways to measure the progress of the students. Emily has an “alternative” nature, in general, which is in contrast to her mother, Charlotte, a more cautious, meeker personality. Emily has been a vegetarian since she was five years old and has various body piercings, as well as an African-American boyfriend named Walter.

Charlotte and Joe divorced fifteen years ago, and Joe relocated from their home in New Jersey to Seattle, where Joe remarried to a stylish and childless woman named Victoria. Throughout the fifteen years of being a divorced woman, Charlotte has led a quiet life and has never dated since the divorce. Even her divorce was a quiet, subdued affair. Charlotte and Joe simply fell out of love with each other – if they were ever truly “in love” at all. Charlotte stayed in New Jersey and, after selling their family home, she moved to a small condominium where she spends quiet days at home. Most of her life revolves around Emily, although Emily lives in New Hampshire. Charlotte does not work (a family inheritance enables her to be unemployed) and other than Emily, Charlotte’s main activities are her weekly manicures, grocery shopping, watching Jeopardy!, and her monthly book club meeting with some friends.

While Charlotte has what seems to be an enviable existence since she essentially leads a “life of leisure,” she tends to be nervous and has trouble sleeping at night (hence the title, The Hazards of Sleeping Alone). When Emily announces at the beginning of the book that she and Walter are going to live together, Charlotte is not judgmental, although she is nervous about Emily getting in over her head with the relationship. One weekend, Emily comes to visit Charlotte and their weekend plans are abruptly altered when Walter shows up shortly thereafter to spend the weekend with them. Charlotte is disappointed that she will not have the weekend alone with her free-spirited daughter, but when Walter announces some shocking news, Charlotte understands why he made the sudden trip to New Jersey. The subsequent turn of events forces Charlotte to take a stand against her daughter – something that she has never really done before. In the process, Charlotte examines her own life choices, and as she realizes that certain things are out of her control, her life opens up to new possibilities and that her own daughter may be able to guide her along with the way to a new, more exciting life.

The Hazards of Sleeping Alone is Juska’s second book after her critically acclaimed first novel, Getting Over Jack Wagner. Having enjoyed The Hazards of Sleeping Alone so much, I have added Getting Over Jack Wagner to my reading “wish list.” Juska has a fine talent for creating funny, heartfelt characters and I enjoyed reading about Charlotte’s quiet life and how she changed over time. Emily is an equally interesting character as well, and there were many poignant, funny scenes as mother and daughter navigate their relationship and both of their futures. Charlotte and Emily are very different characters, but they are wise, strong and honest women and this novel is class-act chick lit that delved into deeper issues of love, family, loneliness, interracial relationships, and the possibility of the future. I highly recommend The Hazards of Sleeping Alone and I look forward to reading more by this author.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Shannon Bigham, 2005

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