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Fractured families tale tells all sides

“I’m Not Julia Roberts,” by Laura Ruby. Warner Books. 2007. 251 pp. $23.99.

By Susan Shinn

Salisbury Post

Laura Ruby thoughtfully provides a “family tree” chart at the beginning of her book, “I’m Not Julia Roberts.”

Good thing. I found myself flipping back to it at the beginning of every chapter, just trying to keep all the characters straight.

Lu is married to Ward, who’s divorced from Beatrix, who’s married to Alan, who’s divorced from Roxie, who’s dating Tate, who’s divorced from Moira, who’s married to Ben. Then there’s Glynn, Tate’s sister, who’s married to George but divorced from Derek.

Got it?

Then there are the children, Liv, Devin, Britt, Ollie, Joey, Ashley and Ryan, who drive their parents and stepparents crazy.

Who can blame them?

Our main character is Lu, who’s trying her best to be a stepmom to Devin, Britt and Ollie, who, as Britt would put it, don’t fricking care.

Lu envisions her life as being the stepmom that Julia Roberts played in the movie of the same name. Of course, real life doesn’t turn out that way.

Lu bribes her sons with ice cream and sneaks cigarettes and is constantly looking for her lap kitty — who’s nowhere to be found in this chaos — for a bit of therapeutic petting.

You can’t help but root for her. She tries mightily.

Thank goodness Ward seems to be the perfect husband. No real problems there.

The problem is with Ward’s ex-wife, Beatrix, who has to be the worst ex ever in the history of exes.

Yikes!

She sends letters to Ward like you wouldn’t believe — well, maybe you would.

Ruby devotes an entire chapter, appropriately titled “Dear Psycho,” to the missives between Beatrix and Ward. There are some unexplained e-mails from Ward to some guy named Mitch — a good buddy who he can whine to, evidently — and a couple of scathing notes from Beatrix to Lu thrown in for good measure.

You can’t believe one woman can hold so much anger — unless you have one of those ex-wives of your own, I guess.

Interestingly, Ruby arranges the letters in reverse chronological order, a telling and effective technique.

Roxie — let’s see, now, she’s Alan’s ex, and Alan is now married to Beatrix — Roxie has her hands full dealing with daughter Liv and working for a crisis hotline.

“It’s a good thing you hooked up with those suicide people,” Liv tells her, “because I’m going to hang myself.”

Yet even though their main goals in life seem to be giving their parents a hard time, the kids are all in all pretty good.

Devin pushes buttons with Lu and Ward by dating Ashleigh and sneaking a beer or three with Liv while he, Liv, Alan and Beatrix paint a living room.

Roxie is more than a little miffed when she realizes that Moira has set her up with Tate, who happens to be Moira’s ex.

“Sometimes that’s all divorce is,” Moira says. “A fatal case of not clicking.”

Ruby’s novel clicks along chapter to chapter, as we glimpse lives of people entangled by marriage and divorce and dating.

It’s easy to laugh because it’s better than crying. You feel for Lu when she drags her boys to the mall to find a Christmas present for their dad — who always seems to be out of town.

You wonder why Lu puts herself through what she does but then it finally starts to pay off. Devin actually starts talking to her rather than just grunting. Britt straightens up at school. Ollie stops throwing tantrums in favor of full GameBoy immersion.

Thank goodness for Annika, her sister and confidante, who’s pregnant with triplets and provides much comic relief.

“I’m Not Julia Roberts” will make you feel a little smug to be married to such a great guy — and you’ll feel relief, too, when you realize that maybe the ex isn’t so bad after all.

Contact Susan Shinn at 704-797-4289 or sshinn@salisburypost.com.

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