Lolly Winston broke onto the book scene in 2004 with her beautiful, heartbreaking book Good Grief, about a young widow trying to find her way after her husband’s illness and eventual death. We’ve had to wait a couple of years for the follow-up which, while it’s not quite as endearing as her first novel, is still well worth the wait.
Happiness Sold Separately is the story of Elinor and Ted Mackey. Both are successful in the business world, she as an attorney and he as a podiatrist, but failures in the family world as they have not been able to get pregnant. Now approaching 40, Elinor knows her chances of conceiving lessen every day, and she has fallen into a depression that not even her husband can coax her out of. Then one day she picks up the phone and hears Ted on the phone with another woman—one he is obviously more than just friends with. Elinor follows him and finds that he’s cheating on her with a trainer from their gym, a young, incredibly fit woman named Gina. After confronting her husband, Ted and Elinor separate, both trying to figure out what they want out of their lives since they can’t have what they really want—children.
However, this is not just the story of Elinor and Ted. It’s also the story of Gina, a kind-hearted woman who only wants to find a man to love her and her ten-year-old son, Toby. Gina has always been the cheerleader for others but has never been able to figure out how to live her own life. She loves Ted, but it kills her to know she’s breaking up a family.
Lolly Winston is a master at drawing her characters in a sympathetic light—but not too sympathetic to make you pity them. Each character has flaws—in most cases, pretty significant flaws—but it’s impossible to hate any of them because it’s so easy to see how they ended up where they are and how anyone could end up there themselves with the right set of circumstances. You want to hate Ted for cheating on Elinor, but you can’t because he’s so obviously torn between two women he loves. You want to hate Gina for sleeping with a married man, but you can’t because she’s such a lost soul who only wants to find happiness. And you sometimes want to hate Elinor for focusing only on having a child and neglecting the rest of her life, but you can’t because it’s so easy to see how this could happen to any woman.
The author also does a very nice job of creating a story arc yet ending it in a place that makes it feel complete without tying up all the loose ends and creating an unbelievable “happily ever after” story. There is no way all the characters in this book can end up happy, just as everyone in real life cannot end up happy. Some people get hurt while others get what they want in the real world, and that’s exactly what happens in Winston’s world. While it would be nice to see everyone end up happy since we grow to care about them all throughout the course of the story, it would not do justice to them, and Winston knows this. She has written a compassionate, touching, true book that a number of people will be able to relate to and which we can all enjoy.