Joyce Maynard became widely known when her brief association with recently deceased recluse J.D. Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye and other classics of social and spiritual dissent in modern America was brought to light when she broke her silence about the Salinger affair in her 1999 memoir, At Home in the World. I should say that’s when she came to this reviewer’s attention. She gained widespread commercial acceptance in 1992, with the publication of her novel, To Die For, which drew several elements from the true life Pamela Smart murder case.
Now, with Under the Influence, the bestselling author of Labor Day and After Her returns with a poignant story about the true meaning – and price – of friendship. Drinking cost Helen her marriage, and custody of her seven-year-old son, Ollie. Once an aspiring art photographer, she now makes ends meet taking portraits of schoolchildren and working for a caterer. Recovering from her addiction, she spends lonely evenings checking out profiles on an online dating site. Weekend visits with her son are awkward; he’s drifting away from her fast. When she meets Ava and Seth Havilland, the vulnerable Helen is instantly enchanted. Wealthy, connected philanthropists, they have their own charity devoted to dogs. Their home is filled with fabulous friends, edgy art, and dazzling parties. Then Helen meets Elliott, a kind, quiet accountant, who offers loyalty and love with none of her newfound friends’ fireworks. To Swift and Ava, he’s boring. Even worse, he’s unimpressed by them.
As Helen increasingly falls under the Havillands’ influence – running errands for them, doing their random chores, questioning her relationship with Elliott – Ava and Swift hold out the most seductive gift: their influence and help for Helen to regain custody of her son. But the debt she owes them is about to come due. Ollie witnesses an accident involving Swift, Swift’s grown son, and the daughter of the Havillands’ housekeeper. With her child’s future in the balance, Helen must choose between the truth and the friends who gave her everything.