The Premise: Bea seems to have everything; a house in the suburbs, a family, a generous husband and a best friend who’s more like a sister. But there’s always more beneath the surface of perfection, and Bea is no different; she’s in the end stages of a surrogate pregnancy and struggling with her self-esteem and a problem she’s hidden all her life, none of which is helped by the fact that her supposedly perfect husband, Lonnie, can’t seem to stop cheating on her. Something’s got to give.
Thoughts: Firstly, please ignore the cover of this book, which, in its current form, makes this look like the kind of frothy book that would be marketed horribly as “chick-lit” and as a beach read. You could read it on a beach – in fact, the story even starts on one – but it’s not as light as its appearance makes out.
The synopsis may have made it clear to you that this is a book heavy on family melodrama, which I am fine with; coming from a boringly functional family myself, I enjoy reading about more dysfunctional ones. And it soon becomes clear that the idyllic family beach trip the book opens with is a red herring, because Bea’s life is anything but sweet. Her pregnancy is revealed in the narrative before the fact that she’s carrying the baby for someone else, so we’re told a few things about Bea before learning that she’s doing something so selfless; this is clever, as to find this out first might mean the reader automatically sees her as a saint. The whole book comes funnelled through Bea’s perspective, which means you’re on her side, but aware of her failings too; Johnson makes it clear to the reader that Lonnie is basically no good, even as Bea is clinging on to his good qualities (like…umm… he looks good in a shirt. That seems to be it).
And Then There Was Me is an interesting exploration of a marriage and what constitutes a good one; Lonnie is a provider in terms of money and luxury, but contributes little emotionally, while Bea seems frustrated without something to do outside of the home. What I found really engaging was the way in which Johnson wove in Bea’s background and the lessons she learned as a child from her mother; their relationship was one of the most compelling parts of the book for me.
What becomes clear is that Bea’s main focus is her friendship with Awilda, which has sustained her since she was a child. This is another relationship depicted really engagingly by Johnson. It all gets a bit over-the-top later on, but I felt quite invested in these characters and their bond, which made the book even more absorbing.
In Conclusion: And Then There Was Me is a great read for anyone who enjoys a family saga, with a bit of melodrama thrown in. It’s an easy read, but one that deals with significant issues.