Juliana’s life is a mess. Her husband Oliver has suddenly become a total jerk, separating her from her kids. She’s been estranged from her brother and father for years. Now she gets a call–her father’s had a motorcycle accident, and she finds out he has Altzheimer’s to boot, and has left instructions granting her power of attorney and mentioning the home which he’s chosen to go to, should the need arise.
She moves back to her childhood after her husband kicks her out. There she begins to uncover the past that up till now has been shrouded in mystery, the truth about her parents’ marriage, her mother’s mental illness, and her troubled girlhood. She discovers that her father is actually a brilliant painter who’s represented by a gallery in New York, something that has been kept completely hidden from her and her brother through the years. The paintings mysteriously appear in her life, and as she shows them to her father, the paintings come to life in strange and magical ways.
Meanwhile, she finds herself having to sell her clothing, jewelry and car in order to survive and pay the bills. Her husband finds more and more creative ways to be a complete pig, and she feels like she’s losing her kids, boy-girl twins in the 8th grade. She reconciles with her brother as well, and begins to help him and his partner start a new business.
Painting Juliana felt to me like I had unearthed something with a lot of potential that was hidden underneath clingy, clay-caked soil. The basic plot line is good, and Martha Louise Hunter is a good writer, but this book really needs a good edit. The grammatical mistakes aren’t terrible, but bad enough to be distracting (sentence fragments, dangling modifiers, spelling mistakes).
Additionally, the book is crying out for a good revision. Oliver is a very two-dimensional bad guy–he’s too heartless to believe–and I can’t believe all her friends would take his side and their kids would believe his lies. Julianna is just too much of a victim. Can nothing ever in her entire life go right for this poor woman? She’s educated and worked at a law office before her marriage, but she misses all the deadlines to respond to the divorce proceedings and let’s him just kick her out of her house and her kids’ lives with just a few tears. The author also has a style that hints but doesn’t reveal, and it was frustrating to try to figure out what exactly was going on. I love nuance and I don’t need things spelled out, but many scenes that were obviously pivotal were left obscure. It was hard to stick with, but at the same time I felt I could see what the author was trying to do, and I liked it enough to keep going. Like I said–a good revision and a good edit and this would be a gem.
Oddly enough, the best characters are the ones in supporting roles. The description of her mother’s descent from capable, confident, beautiful Latina woman to one who won’t leave the house is well done. The characters of her brother’s partner and her parents’ former boss have real life.
Painting Juliana was a finalist in the Writers League of Texas Mainstream Fiction Contest and gets lots of good reviews on Amazon.