Shine Shine Shine - Lydia Netzer

Sunny Mann has masterminded a life for herself and her family in a quiet Virginia town. Her house and her friends are picture-perfect. Even her genius husband, Maxon, has been trained to pass for normal. But when a fender bender on an average day sends her coiffed blonde wig sailing out the window, her secret is exposed. Not only is she bald, Sunny is nothing like the Stepford wife she’s trying to be. As her facade begins to unravel, we discover the singular world of Sunny, an everywoman searching for the perfect life, and Maxon, an astronaut on his way to colonize the moon.






Sunny is living in Virginia with her young autistic son Robert (nicknamed "Bubber") with another baby on the way. Sunny's husband Maxon -- whom she's known since they were children -- is an astronaut currently up in space on  a mission to colonize the moon with robots he designed with highly advanced A.I. (artificial intelligence) technology. They will be able to dream, remember, even reproduce ... somehow... apparently. Don't ask me why NASA, in this story, thought this would be a good project to fund, since I think in reality our scientists and astronauts have already found that idea to be a dead end as far as human colonization (so how would we benefit from having robots up there, playing at being human?) but as the reader, you're asked to consider the feasibility for the duration of the story.


So while Maxon is up in space focused on his robots but still throwing out thoughts on his wife, said wife is back on Earth having something of an emotional breakdown. Not only is she starting to unravel with faults she finds in her marriage that just seem that much worse with Maxon away, but also her secret battle with Alopecia Universalis becomes public knowledge after she is involved in a car accident that destroys her wig. So everything seems to crash down at once -- Sunny freaking out because everyone suddenly knows her secret health condition, the stress of raising an autistic son while being pregnant and having her husband away, the fixation of problems she has with Maxon and having no one to talk to... oh, and also Sunny's mother being in a coma, on life support, with Sunny debating on whether or not to turn it off. That too. It all just gets to be too much for her. 


And it was too much for me. Seriously. This book was one big ol' downer. There was supposed to be a heart-warming look at a relationship that works through all odds in here somewhere (which is partly what interested me in checking it out) but damn if I could find it! I was also curious to read it regarding the autism aspect but I didn't get a very good feel of that part of the story. I was hoping for more of a moving story about what the son was like, what the mother's struggles were, the joys she found in the process... something. But it just felt like a lot of depression and complaining and very little of Bubber's autism story. In fact, the story seemed to focus most heavily on Sunny's alopecia, but even that was mostly her fixating on what she thought people must think of her, how they must be judging her. Sunny seemed to jump to being angry with people before they were actually guilty of doing anything wrong. 


The story hints, through some flashback moments in Sunny's mind, that all was not well in her marriage before Maxon blasted into space. In fact, they had a huge blowout fight the day before he left where she said some pretty hateful things to him. Later on in the story, something goes wrong with Maxon's mission and communication between his team and NASA is lost, which really gets Sunny examining her marriage, thinking on the possibility that she may lose her husband altogether.


She continues to replay that argument and feel guilty about her words while he's away but also points out her issues with him that led her to say those things. I don't know, Maxon and Sunny just didn't seem like they were enjoying each other's company that much anymore. The reader gets bits of Maxon's inner dialogue where he keeps talking about how he loves his wife, how and when he fell in love with her, but reading it I got that same feeling as when you hear someone say "of course I love them" but it sounds like they're trying to convince themselves more than anyone else. I never really felt the love though. Sunny seems disappointed with her life in general -- how it turned out as a whole -- which may be playing into what she sees wrong with Maxon. 


While I was really excited to get into this novel, intrigued by the premise, it ended up just having too many problems for me. I wasn't a huge fan of the writing style as a whole -- it didn't really flow in a way that kept my interest that well and I felt like there were a number of side stories that seemed unnecessary to the overall plot. I wanted there to be more on the relationship between Sunny and Bubber but it felt largely like "oh, woe is me, look at my sad life" rather than focusing on the day to day blessings. I wanted to see strength in the relationship between Maxon and Sunny but just felt like they were trying to convince themselves and each other that they still had something there. I never really felt a true sense of love and respect between them. So in the end, I feel like this is one of those stories that had potential greatness in the concept but fell short for me in the execution.