May 20, 2014
Goldminds Publishing, LLC
For a first book, Martha Louise Hunter has written an engaging story about family relationships, Alzheimer’s disease, agoraphobia, divorce, and letting go of the past. The story focuses on Juliana, an Austin, Texas housewife, who is served divorce papers and kicked out of her the house by her husband, Oliver, a hot-shot attorney. Fortunately, her father lives in Austin, and so she goes to seek his help at the house she grew up in, not knowing that the first stages of Alzheimer’s has overtaken her father. Once her mother passed away many years ago, Juliana had a very strained relationship with her father. The house is in a shambles, her brother does not get along with their father either, but fortunately, her dad saw what was coming and set up a plan of action as his disease progressed.
Juliana has 14-year-old twins, Adam and Lindsey, and they were never close to their grandfather and stay with Oliver, as he well intended. Juliana’s reason for being is to be a mother to her twins and now that has been taken away, at least temporarily. Juliana was clueless about what Oliver had planned, probably as clueless as she had been their entire marriage, focusing on her kids. The relationship with her daughter is the one that suffers more than her relationship with her son.
Oliver is presented by Ms. Hunter as a completely despicable character. His only good point is that he is a good attorney and is charismatic in court and makes a lot of money–if those are good points. Time and time again in the novel, naïve Juliana is manipulated by Oliver. Juliana was very used to the country club lifestyle, had girlfriends who were just like her in that they didn’t work and bought whatever they pleased. Of course, these women abandoned her when Oliver started the divorce proceedings. Only one woman that was previously divorced seemed to want to be her friend.
During this terrible time for Juliana, her dad is getting worse and she follows his wishes and puts him in a facility geared towards Alzheimer’s patients. She learns that he had at one time been a very good artist and painter. An old acquaintance, an art dealer, sends all the paintings to Juliana that she had kept. Juliana takes them to the facility and her dad remembers much in flashes as he is surrounded by his paintings. In the meantime, Juliana tries to fix up her childhood home, but she has little money. Later she has to start selling the paintings to raise money for herself and her father.
After much sturm and drang, Juliana learns the truth about many aspects of her parents’ lives that she had no knowledge. She does remember how much of a terrible agoraphobic her mother had been, and she discovers how this led to her premature death.
I did enjoy reading Painting Juliana, even though I could not relate to Juliana in any way. I was often frustrated at Juliana’s cluelessness and helplessness and her inability to better her situation. I felt this way especially after learning that she was once a paralegal and wanted to go to law school. She did not know her own strengths. I will never live the country club lifestyle or have someone completely be in charge of my financial situation without questioning anything. The novel does not really dig deep into Juliana and Oliver’s marriage, even in the therapy sessions they attend, because Oliver would never be that introspective. Juliana struggles a long time in this novel in figuring out how comfort and money are no substitute for real love.
I am sure many out there can and will relate to Juliana and her terrible situation, even if I cannot. But I do think that Ms. Hunter is a good writer on many levels. Of course I wonder how much of this novel is probably autobiographical. If you can relate to the issues brought forth by Ms. Hunter, then you will enjoy this book. I enjoyed reading Painting Juliana even though I had nothing in common with Juliana’s life–it’s a good story.