"Something wasn't right. Jem wasn't entirely sure what it was. It was something about Ralph, about his smile, his demeanor. He seemed, well, fake was the only way she could think of to describe it, as though he was pretending to like her. He was clearly very happy with his home life and his children, and seemed to be enjoying his work, but whenever he looked at Jem, it was as if he wasn't seeing her anymore." (Pg. 339)
It's been 11 years since author Lisa Jewell visited the characters from Ralph's Party, so now it's time to check in with Ralph McLeary and Jem Catterick in After the Party. I did not read Ralph's Party, but I don't think that's a prerequisite. After just a few chapters you're pulled right into their world. The problems this couple has are universal. They're not sure who the other person is anymore. Do they still want the same things? Did they ever want the same things? Can their relationship be fixed?
Ralph is an artist and Jem is trying to jumpstart her career after struggling to have two children, Scarlett and Blake. Jem is like a lot of mothers -- she's struggling to keep it together. She wants Ralph to get out of his art studio and help more with the children. Ralph feels like something is missing from their relationship, and from his life overall. What is it? Or is he just missing the life they had before the children came along? There was more freedom, more affection, and just more to life before they had children. Jem wanted a family more than Ralph.
Ralph uses a trip to California to visit a friend to find himself. Jem uses his time away to explore her fantasies. A mysterious man on the train piques her interest. She strikes up a friendship with the mystery man, Joel, and his daughter Jessica. Play dates turn into a dinner with the kids. In Jem's mind their exchanges have an air of innocence. There is nothing wrong with having dinner with a man that's not her partner. Right? Those lingering looks at each other are Ok. Text messages to each other are Ok. Long talks are Ok. Is this a budding friendship or does Jem truly want a life separate from Ralph? Or is Jem just bored with life?
Meanwhile, Ralph lives the life of a single man. Hanging out with his friend Smith and his girlfriend Rosey. Ralph latches onto Rosey, who helps him explore his spirituality -- something Jem would never do. To Jem God doesn't need to be in their lives. But when Ralph returns to England, he thinks otherwise. Exploring that side of himself forces Ralph to take stock of his life. He realizes Jem needs more help with the children, and believes that after 11 years they should finally get married. Jem is grateful for the help, but it seems like they are pretending to be happy. They're saying and doing all the right things, but don't seem really happy.
Joel and Rosey are the unspoken problems in their relationship. Jem feels the need to ignore her flirtation with Joel and Ralph feels the need to hide his new found spirituality. Joel still pops up, but at odd times. Did Joel read too much into the relationship? At times I have to say yes. He has legitimate reasons for popping up, but it seems a little too convenient.
Sometimes I had a hard time following the timeline. The timeline wasn't linear, which I don't always like in books. Overall, there are some good elements to the book. The ups and downs of a
relationship are universal. The book is told from Jem and Ralph's point
of view. Which is good to see what the other is thinking. You see how
both of them can read too much into something simple. It is one of those books that will remind you that life isn't easy, and it takes so many twists and turns.
Rating: Give it a try
Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Atria Books) in exchange for an honest review.