- Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
The term “Roaring Forties” refers to strong westerly winds found in the Southern Hemisphere — between the latitudes of 40 and 50 degrees. In Ellen Hopkins’s novel written in verse, “Triangles” (Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, 544 pages, trade paperback, $15.00) the winds of change for three Reno, Nevada area women approaching forty — “halfway to death” is how one of them refers to that fateful age — alter their lives beyond recognition
Holly, burdened by the extra weight that often comes with being a mother of three and 18 years of marriage as a stay-at-home mom, takes up running and drops 60 pounds. Regretting that she left college for marriage after only a year, she joins a writing group, with the goal of producing erotic literature, and develops extramarital relationships that could destroy her marriage to her lawyer husband Jace.
Andrea, a divorcee with a 13-year-old daughter named Harley, has a boring job at the state Division of Motor Vehicles in Carson City. Friends with Andrea since their daughters were in a playgroup as toddlers, Andrea comforts Jace when he discovers a journal and a poem written by one of the writing group members, a married teacher with whom Holly is having an affair. Andrea’s fall-back position — pun intended! — threatens her friendship with Holly, who is drawn into a world of swingers. I thought swinging clubs were a relic of the 1970s and maybe the ’80s, but Holly manages to find one in Reno.
Andrea’s sister Marissa has more than her share of grief: her rebellious teen-age son, Shane, is gay, which drives Christian, her husband, furious. The couple have a loving and lovable four-year-old daughter, Shelby, suffering from terminal spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). Caring for Shelby is complicated by the five-year affair Christian is having with a beautiful, younger co-worker, Skye.
Describing the plot of the book in prose makes it seem soap-opera-ish and — frankly– prosaic. Hopkins’s use of verse magically transforms the story, providing humor to offset the poignant story of Shelby’s fate and the shenanigans the women indulge in. There are no minor characters in “Triangles”: the peripheral ones are fully drawn, especially so in the case of the aging hippie parents of Andrea and Marissa.
Holly wants to write erotic books like the people in her writing group. I’ve always thought that women writers produce the best erotic literature and “Triangles” vindicates this view. Hopkins excels in this genre, just as she has done so in her verse fiction for young adults. “Triangles” is a beach book that transcends the genre, in the same way the late John Updike’s 1968 novel of rutting New England suburbanites “Couples” is more than just a dirty book by an acclaimed novelist.
About the Author
Ellen Hopkins is the New York Times bestselling author of eight young adult novels, including the “Crank” trilogy and “Perfect”, which are beloved by teens and adults alike. Her next adult novel, “Collateral”, will be published in October 2012. She lives in Carson City, Nevada. Her website: www.EllenHopkins.com.
Here’s how she describes her career, from her website:
“I was adopted at birth and raised by a great, loving older couple. I grew up in Palm Springs CA, although we summered in Napa and Lake Tahoe, to avoid those 120 degree summers. After my adopted parents died, I did find my birth mother, who lives in Michigan with my half sister.
“I studied journalism in college, but left school to marry, raise kids and start my own business — a video store, before the mega-chains were out there. After a divorce, I met my current husband and we moved to Tahoe to become ski bums and otherwise try to find our dreams. At that time, I went to work for a small alternative press, writing stories and eventually editing.
“When we moved down the mountain to the Reno area, I started writing nonfiction books, many of which you can see here. The rest are viewable on my personal website. I also continued to freelance articles for newspapers and magazines.
“All that has changed, with the publication of my novel, “Crank”, which has led to a valued career writing YA novels in verse, all of which explore the more difficult situations young adults often find themselves in. Will I ever write one in prose? No doubt! But, for the moment, writing novels in verse fulfills two needs: writing poetry and writing fiction. The combination is so interesting!”