Review: Finding Maslow by Susan Lee Walberg ★★★★
Finding Maslow is a touching literary novel about the lives of people affected by Hurricane Sandy. It centers around Justina, a somewhat-hapless law student and politician’s daughter, who gets trapped in her house with the handyman, Daniel, during the storm. Her home is spared, but the neighborhood is in shambles, and her father doesn’t quite approve of her budding romance with Daniel, who he considers beneath her. It’s a story about overcoming adversity in both the small details of your life and during major life-changing events.
Walberg’s writing is clean and precise, and she shows great empathy for all of her characters. A survivor of Hurricane Sandy herself, her knowledge of the storm and affection for the region shines through on every page. Though this is a novel about a disaster, it’s actually a calming novel, a book about people’s better natures, and people with diverse cultural backgrounds bonding together during a difficult time.
This isn’t a strict romance novel, and actually could have used more romantic elements. Too often in romance the heat between the two main characters is forced, as if it’s the only thing they think about. In Finding Maslow, Justina and Daniel don’t think about it enough. In this way it’s a fairly old-fashioned read, but it is also somewhat unrealistic. Trapped in a house by candlelight, drinking champagne, there is relatively little sexual tension between them, which sets up the tone for the rest of the novel. Of course there’s some tension (she eyes him in his wet clothes, asks if he has a girlfriend), but it’s the sort of situation that is ripe for some kind of sexual escapade – at least an internal dialogue about what it might be like.
On the one hand, this says something about Justina’s character – she’s a sheltered rich girl who doesn’t know a lot about the world. But in this day and age, she comes off as exceedingly sheltered. She can have romantic inclinations without being promiscuous. Daniel too is old-fashioned in how he thinks about Justina: he thinks she’s “cute,” whereas he might be a little more aggressive than that.
All that said, it’s Finding Maslow‘s old-fashionedness that makes it quietly appealing. Of course there’s a long history in literature of men being a bit more gentlemanly in books than they might be in real life – this is what makes it a romantic fantasy. And so the fact that their relationship doesn’t hit any dramatic highs or lows – even while experiencing a devastating hurricane – is somehow comforting. The novel is a page turner because the characters are so likable, and they’re so likable because they don’t have many egregious flaws – again, not like life, but that’s what makes it such a soothing and enjoyable read.
Which is not to say it’s a mundane or emotionless book – there are characters going through immense trauma throughout. Walberg handles all of these varying characters very well. But the book doesn’t dive very deeply into the emotional turmoil characters may be experiencing. Even though the novel is about the absolute devastation following Hurricane Sandy, it’s people’s dignity that is at the forefront, not their anguish, and though this may only portray one side of the human condition, it’s a hopeful and comforting one.
A couple points on presentation: the cover could use some reworking and the novel could also go through another proofread. Beyond that, Finding Maslow is an enjoyable read – reassuring in its warm view of human relationships. It may at times be a little sunny a view of human behavior, but in times like Sandy what people need most is a little sunlight.