Book Review: A Measure Of Happiness

As featured in Merrimack Valley Magazine. Reprinted with permission ©2016 512 Media, Inc.

Lorrie Thomson's third novel, A Measure of Happiness, explores the question:

Is it ever too late to redeem yourself?

The opening pages drop you straight into action. A bakery has been ransacked. A girl wakes up with no memory of the sexual encounter that her body reports. A young man is kicked out of his parents' house and the locks are changed behind him. Each thread is presented by a different character: the bakery's owner Katherine; her twenty-something apprentice Celeste; and Zach, who shows up at the shop in search of his birth mother. But don't let the bakery setting fool you; this is no cozy mystery. The issues raised are gritty. Conflict arises out of unplanned pregnancy, eating disorders, and date rape.

Despite the grit, the book is sensuous and sexy, full of aromas, flavors, and flirtation. Toenails are painted blue and glittery "Like something that might taste like a raspberry Pixy stick." Food descriptions intermix with insight into the human condition, for example, Katherine inhales the mellowness of freshly baked bread, "... but the aroma didn't reach her mood." And in another case, "She'd spent the rest of the day restless, contemplating the nature of fate versus self-determination and whipping up key lime pies so tart they'd stung her eyes."

The Milford, NH author's language is unique and compelling. Thomson's phrasing contains interesting contradictions and repetitions, such as "Her voice betrayed nothing more than mild curiosity. Her voice was a liar." And in another example "His Timex ticked, ticked, ticked... His jawline ticked, ticked, ticked." This unusual language creates a poetry of meaning which makes you stop reading for a moment to simply ponder. Thomson also demonstrates artistry in conveying internal conflict. For example, Katherine has mixed feelings about the idea of her son Zach and Celeste being a couple: "The thought alarmed her. The thought pleased her, two people she cared about caring for each other. The thought made her want to cover her mind's eye."

Each member of the trio is on a journey of healing. Katherine is lonely and guilt-ridden about the lie she's been hiding for decades. Zach is a witty young Superman in a cartoon cape, who breaks open Celeste's body-image fears with an ice cream sundae. But when it comes to confronting her external enemy, Celeste is her own superhero. As their shared journey unfolds, the core meaning of family is unveiled, along with an acceptance of the fact that we all carry secrets. As Katherine says "She knew Celeste well, unless she didn't."

I'm still feeling the wistful wisdom of this notion: "No matter your age, everyone needed someone to treat them as though they were small and precious and deserving of protection." Thompson's characters remind us that we have to be brave enough to risk accepting it.