Thursday, April 1, 2021

Book 278: The Possibilities

"Afterward, I had touched my abdomen. I pinched my skin. I thought it was possible that that moment, that particular choice, would hurt me for the rest of my life. Or maybe it wouldn’t. I would never know. Everything just becomes a part of you. Gets woven into the tapestry. The next day was an ordinary day."

Dates read: November 22-27, 2018

Rating: 5/10

Even though it's now been nearly a decade since I practiced law, both of my parents still want me to go back to it. I feel extremely comfortable with my decision to leave it behind. I was so miserable, and while a significant portion of that misery was related to the exact situation I was in, I figured out enough about the general situation of your average litigator to know that it wasn't for me. Some people thrive under constant pressure, find it exciting and stimulating to never know what the next day will bring. Not me. I crack. Before it was over, I was crying in the shower every morning, terrified of what might be facing me at the office that day. Getting out was 100% the right call and I am very happy doing what I do now.

My parents just want the best for me. They want to see me put that legal education that I paid for to full use, to get to the earning potential that would make it easier to pay off those student loans. They want a life of success and comfort for me because they love me. But children have a way of turning into their own people. In Kaui Hart Hemming's The Possibilities, reporter Sarah St. John is struggling with the recent loss of her son, Cully. In his early 20s, he'd recently moved back in with his mom in their hometown of Breckinridge when he was caught in an avalanche while out on the slopes and killed. A few months after his death, as Sarah is trying to figure out how to start living in, she finds herself confronting the reality that she might not have known him as well as she thought.

First, she and her best friend, Suzanne, find evidence that Cully was selling pot when they're cleaning out his room. But more importantly, a young woman called Kit turns up on Sarah's doorstep out of nowhere. She's pretending to be making some extra cash shoveling snow, but it turns out she was the girl Cully was seeing when he died. And she's pregnant. As his family (Sarah, her father Jack, and Sarah's ex/Cully's father, Billy) prepares for a final celebration of his life, Kit's pregnancy and uncertainty about what to do about it stirs up powerful emotions.

Hemmings clearly has an area of interest in her writing: much like the Kings in The Descendants, the St. Johns in The Possibilities are a family coping with the loss of a loved one in a setting of intense natural loveliness. Each family has a quirky member who serves as empathetic comic relief (foul-mouthed child Scottie in Descendants, here QVC-addicted Jack), and each family deals with an outsider connected to the loved one as they grieve. Ordinarily I wouldn't think it quite fair to compare two of an author's works quite so closely, but the parallels between these books are so strong that it doesn't seem avoidable to do so. Hemmings is far from the only author who writes books that feel like variations on a theme (Jane Austen, for example, wrote wonderful books that aren't actually all that different from each other, plot-wise), but for these two to directly follow each other makes the feeling that this is a bit of a retread even stronger.

And to be honest, of the two, this one is worse. A lot of the elements feel a little half-baked, like Sarah and Suzanne's friendship, and the tension between Suzanne's desire for sympathy for going through a divorce and Sarah's continuing grief. And while the decision Kit wrestles with about her pregnancy is obviously supposed to be the source of great dramatic tension, I never really felt a great deal of suspense about how it would play out. The book does have highlights: Hemmings writes lovely, poignant prose, and for the most part she builds compelling characters and lets them shine. This is a perfectly pleasant book, and if I hadn't read and loved The Descendants before I picked it up, I would probably have liked it more. But it suffered for the inevitable comparison, and I'd recommend the other much more heartily.

One year ago, I was reading: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Two years ago, I was reading: All the President's Men

Three years ago, I was reading: Freedom

Four years ago, I was reading: Innocent Traitor

Five years ago, I was reading: The Group

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