Working Mother

The Objects of Her Affection: A Novel, Sonya Cobb (Sourcebooks, Landmark), 352 pages

Sophia, the central character in Sonya Cobb’s The Objects of Her Affections is almost uncomfortably familiar: a Pittsburgh mother of two small children attempting to run a struggling home business while her husband travels extensively for his work as a museum curator. Regardless of careers or geographical location, most of us have observed the challenges posed by this sort of “normal” life, even if we haven’t lived it ourselves. Add into the mix a slightly over-priced, older house, bought with a variable rate mortgage at the peak of the housing bubble, and you can predict where this novel is going.

What you can’t predict is how Sophia responds to this situation. Having always handled her family’s finances, she decides that keeping up the mortgage payments is her responsibility. Her solution? Start stealing minor pieces from the museum at which her husband works and selling them to a dealer in New York.

Because Sophia doesn’t have the art history background her husband does, she accidentally steals a piece that’s important enough to be missed—which introduces the FBI to the story.

This isn’t a novel of high-end crime a la The Thomas Crown Affair. It’s much less flashy than that, a tale of family pressures and the mistakes that are sometimes made in response.

One of the best aspects of this book is the characterizations. The premise may sound a bit unlikely, but Cobb’s characters, especially Sophie, ring true. The reader can believe that Sophie’s backed herself into a corner where art theft seems like her only option. And being backed into a corner of unsustainable mortgage payments is all too easy to understand these days.

One of the things that I like about Sophia is that she isn’t always likeable. She plays her cards close to her chest, even with those most deserving of her trust. Her judgements of others come quickly. Nonetheless, her good intentions and concern for her family make it difficult for readers to become too critical of her.

If you’re looking for a piece of “women’s fiction” (a term I’m deeply ambivalent about) that moves beyond the usual expectations while keeping the relationships among its characters at its center, you’ll be quite pleased with The Objects of Her Affection.