Life is full of surprises — and unfortunately, not all of them are good. Middle-aged Helen and Alice find this out the hard way as Alice’s husband passes away from a heart attack and Helen’s husband becomes unfaithful and kicks her out of their home and shared business. Thrust into new lives overnight, what are two feisty, opinionated and set-in-their-ways women to do?
That’s what Carol Rhees sets out to answer in her charming debut novel, Joint Venture.
Though Helen and Alice were originally from the same small New England town of Poplar Point, their relationship was tense after their differences were drilled into them since childhood, with mothers who feuded publicly and deepened the feud between their families.
After spending her entire life in Poplar Point and trying to navigate her life without her husband, Alice is surprised to see Helen outside the small town’s pub, crying from her own misfortune. Catching up on each other’s lives that night, Alice’s adult son, Bear, comes home with news that will change the two women’s lives forever — and allow them both to start paths of their own.
HUMOR IN THE TITLE AND BEYOND
During the pandemic — a time that was incredibly life-changing for many — Rhees created a story of two middle-aged women who decide to change their lives for the better by going in on a joint venture together. But it’s not just any joint venture — it’s a joint venture involving marijuana distribution, creating an at-once humorous and clever title.
The writing of this book is equally as clever, witty and at times deeply emotional. The banter between the townspeople is realistic and smile-inducing, and a bonding experience between Alice and Helen, where Helen goes on a “trip” for the first time, is sure to leave readers chortling. But in equal measure, Rhees does not shy away from harder-to-face emotions, including Alice returning to the place where her husband died, Helen facing her husband’s infidelity and her adult daughter facing the same unfaithfulness in her own husband.
While the book as a whole is uplifting, readers will experience a full range of emotions, from joy to sadness to anger, while a few women’s worlds are turned on their heads and they begin to change their lives — and their entire town’s — for the better.
A DIVISIVE BUSINESS VENTURE
The book is reflective of real life in its ups and downs, and it’s also a realistic take on what is often involved in starting a business, especially something as complex and divisive as the legalization and distribution of marijuana.
Joint Venture is set in the time right after recreational marijuana was legalized in the state of Massachusetts, leaving each county to decide whether they wanted to update their zoning laws to allow for dispensaries. With Poplar Point showing its age, unable to keep up with the tourism in the surrounding towns and cities, Alice, Helen and Bear make a push for transforming Alice’s late husband, Arlo’s, liquor store into a new kind of shop that could improve traffic and revenue in their town.
Tensions are high throughout most of the book, as some of the town actively opposes the use of recreational (and perhaps even medicinal) marijuana, while the rest of the town wholeheartedly backs the unlikely duo. With grief, dissolved marriages, threats, dark figures on the periphery and even stalking, readers might wonder how much these characters can take!
NOT THE LAST FOR CAROL RHEES
This was an absolutely delightful read and will leave Rhees’ audience rooting for these characters’ collective success. No matter what a reader’s opinion is on the legalization of recreational marijuana, they would still be able to appreciate the journey of these characters and how everyone can relate to going through a life-changing event.
Joint Venture’s smart, snarky and independent women (especially in their 40s and beyond) could be related to the women and storylines of What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day by Pearl Cleage, Champagne at Seven!: Bitches of Fifth Avenue by Toni Glickman and Cleo McDougal Regrets Nothing by Allison Winn Scotch. The tensions between Helen and Alice could even be compared to Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, though Joint Venture is more witty and humorous at its core than its predecessor.
Enjoyable to read, smart, and packed with witty feminism and “girl power,” this will surely not be the last we hear from Carol Rhees.
About Carol Rhees:
Carol Rhees is a retired lawyer, professor and teacher, as well as the founder and executive director of a small nonprofit that works in Ethiopia. She and her husband live in the DC suburbs and at the Delaware shore where she is at work on her second novel.