When Audrey Matthews offers an evening class in life drawing, all she's looking for is a little extra pocket money and something to fill her Tuesday nights. So she hires a model and recruits five students - each of whom have their own reason for being there. For Zarek, a Polish immigrant, the class is a welcome distraction and a place to escape his dull cafe job and noisy roommate. Then there's the handsome, mysterious James who has moved to the small town of Carrickbawn looking for a new start for himself and his daughter. He's vowed to keep to himself, but then his interest in Jackie, the class model and single mom, takes a more personal turn. While Audrey has just fallen in love -- with the adorable puppy in the window of the local pet shop. Will she be put off by the store's brusque owner or does she find out that his bark is worse than his bite? As the weeks pass, it becomes clear to the members of the drawing class that their fellow students aren't exactly who they seem...
I decided to get into this one because the plot reminded me very much of School Of Essential Ingredients and its sequel The Lost Art Of Mixing by Erica Bauermeister, which I loved (imagine my delight to find that the review blurbs at the beginning of Life Drawing For Beginners actually included a review blurb from Bauermeister herself!). Meaney's novel lays out the life situations of several characters who are all brought together in the life drawing (as in, sketching nude models) class of Audrey Matthews. When not teaching her class, Audrey lives the usual single girl life, largely made up just of work and time with her new puppy. Audrey gets the puppy from a local pet shop run by Michael, who at first seems pretty surly (for example, when she asks for dog training tips, he quips "get a book on the subject". Daaang, dude!). But Michael has reasons for the way he is, why he struggles with being open and trusting with others... something the reader learns more in depth as the story progresses. And what a story he has! In fact, Michael's history, dark as it got in parts, was my favorite to read of all of the characters.
There's also the stories of Zarek, a Polish immigrant now working in Ireland, who takes Audrey's art class as a sort of reprieve from his annoying, monotonous food service job. Zarek's also trying to find a way to heal from some pretty serious family traumas.
Then there's the somewhat parallel stories of James & Jackie. James, an architect, is trying to reboot his life as a newly single dad, while Jackie, the model in Audrey's class, is trying to make ends meet as a single mom (though she's self conscious about her not-so-bangin' body, she takes the work because she could use the money). I felt for Jackie, because her story -- how she became a single parent -- it's not a not-so-uncommon one that could happen to anyone, yet her family just seems to see her as little more than one big disappointment now. But I admired her for taking responsibility, doing what she needed to do to do right by the child. And it's a cute connection that James & Jackie's little kids end up becoming friends in school.
While there were some interesting character studies in this novel, and I did feel somewhat for some of the characters, I can't honestly say I was riveted with the plot as a whole. The jumping around from character to character, while it's not always an issue for me, seemed a little too jerky in this book. Just as I was getting into one storyline, I was whiplashed into the next one and back again. Also, the pace of the story was just a little too slow for me. I like a nice blend of character introspection and day to day action, but here I just felt like I was spending way too much time in the heads of the characters without any real action to keep me entranced. I found myself getting a little bored. I did read to the end though, but even the ending left me with that "that's it?!" feeling, which is not something I want to feel after 400+ pages.
If you're into writing as a craft, I would recommend this for the character study aspect, but for readers, just know this is a slow moving read that might not be for everyone.