To Ella Beene, happiness means living in the Northern California river town of Elbow with her husband, Joe, and his two young children. For three years, Ella has been the only mother the kids have known. But when Joe drowns off the coast, his ex-wife shows up at his funeral, intent on reclaiming the children. Ella must fight to prove they should remain with her while she struggles to save the family’s market. With wit and determination, she delves beneath the surface of her marriage, finally asking the questions she most fears, the answers jeopardizing everything and everyone she most loves.
Rather than the fairy tale version of step-motherhood that pits good against evil, The Underside of Joy explores a complex relationship between two women who both consider themselves to be the children’s mother. Their conflict uncovers a map of scars — physical and emotional — to their families’ deeply buried tragedies, including Italian internment camps during WWII and postpartum depression and psychosis.
I knew I'd want to have Seré as a guest on What Women Write, but I wanted to do something out of the ordinary, not just a standard Q&A. As I read The Underside of Joy, things began to jump out at me. Themes. Metaphors. Whatever you want to call them, they intrigued me. They're kind of my thing. I started jotting a list, then asked Seré if she'd be willing to take this palette of words and paint a word picture for us. A picture of The Underside of Joy. A picture of Seré on an ordinary day. A picture of Seré as a writer.
She's a good sport. She said, "When I spoke at my book launch about how I came to write the book, I described it as a five-car accident in my head … five different things that collided and out of that I wrote the opening to the book. But a painting sounds much nicer than a car accident!"
I am known among my family and friends as someone who occasionally shouts, “Look at the trees! Look at the trees!” I have a thing about trees, especially redwoods. I lived in San Diego for 17 years. Gorgeous beaches. Swaying palm trees. Fragrant eucalyptus. But no redwood forests. I understand; you can’t have everything all the time. But when I moved back up to Northern California, I became somewhat of a tree hugger. (In the sense that I literally did hug them. But only occasionally. ) There is nothing quite like walking in a forest. The scents. The quiet. The cool, filtered, speckled air. The patch of blue sky floating way, way up above. And redwoods grow in family circles, feeding off the old mother tree. Once the redwoods planted themselves in my novel, their roots ran deep, and they stayed.
SERÉ PRINCE HALVERSON
lives in northern California and worked as a freelance copywriter for twenty years while she wrote fiction.
She and her husband have four grown children. She is a mom and a stepmom, and grew up with a mom and a stepmom. This is her debut novel.