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There is always a moment of trepidation when an author you love writes a new book. This is true whether you’re clicking preorder online, standing in front of a display in a bookstore, or, like me, waiting for the email from the editor containing the freshly submitted final draft of a manuscript.
I adored Laura Dave’s last novel, EIGHT HUNDRED GRAPES, which followed a woman at a crossroads in her personal life (not sure how I would react to a fiancé keeping that huge of a secret), discovering deep rifts within her beloved family (your parents should warn you before they start seeing other people, right?), and learning she might lose her childhood home forever (um, where can I sign up to live on a California vineyard?).
Dave’s writing is smart and funny, her characters are complex, and her exploration of love and family is nuanced and relatable. But what impressed me most was her detailed writing about California wine country. She went all in, researching viticulture and meeting biodynamic winemakers, learning about the careful horticulture and delicate balancing that goes into a gorgeous bottle of wine. These features are woven into the prose and, frankly, I was nervous she wouldn’t be able to pull off such a harmonizing feat with a totally new subject in HELLO, SUNSHINE.
So, on receiving the editor’s “It’s here!” subject line email, I timidly clicked open, and began reading about Sunshine Mackenzie, a 35-year-old culinary sensation with millions of fans, bestselling cookbooks, and a supportive husband by her side. At least until her cooking and lifestyle empire gets hacked.
By the time I’d finished the first chapter—which closes with: “I was not (certainly at that moment in time) a good person . . .”—I knew Laura Dave had done it again. In just a few pages she wove in the history of a Rolling Stones song amid tension between Sunshine’s meticulous online life and the gorgeous real-life husband next to her in bed. This, I thought to myself, was going to be good. And I kept clicking through the digital pages.
Where EIGHT HUNDRED GRAPES used wine and cultivating vineyards to illustrate developments in varied relationships, in HELLO, SUNSHINE, Dave uses social media to explore the magnitude and slippery slope of small falsehoods.
The novel meditates on the ease of separating your reality from an idealized presentation, and how this separation affects yourself and those around you. In Sunshine’s extreme case, it results in returning home to her estranged sister and starting from scratch—but grounding herself in honesty rather than exercising filters, hashtags, and apps.
In the end, the secret Sunshine was really hiding from the world was that she was hiding from herself all along. And frankly, I had been hiding too—in my office with the door closed trying to finish the novel. I closed the file, opened Twitter, and typed “New novel by @lauradave is a #mustread, can’t wait for every1 to get their hands on it! RT if you <3ed #EightHundredGrapes!”
(What? HELLO, SUNSHINE’s twenty-first-century moral was to speak your #truth on social media, not leave it entirely!)