Friday, June 6, 2014

Oh, The Possibilities

Do you remember when the George Clooney film, The Descendants, came out? At the time, I had somehow spaced the fact that this film was based on a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, and it wasn't until customers began asking for it in print that I got with the program.

Now that I've read her second novel, The Possibilities, I am totally with the program! What I admire about both books is the way Ms. Hemmings examines  volatile, controversial subjects, (assisted death, abortion, adoption) through the prism of the lives of very ordinary families. These folks who have to make excruciating decisions are you and me and the people next door.

A single word title like The Possibilities is so perfectly apt and understated. It is also full of hope, as is this novel about Sarah St. John, a local TV announcer in Breckenridge, Colorado, who is returning to work after a three month hiatus. You see, her twenty-two year old son Cully, was killed while trying to out-ski an avalanche in the beloved mountains he called home.

There's a particularly poignant and realistic scene early in the book when Sarah and her best friend Suzanne, who is going through a divorce, excavate Cully's room for items to be given away or dumped. Each thing Sarah touches carries a memory, an odor, a connection to Cully that nearly breaks her.

Suzanne, feeling that it's high time her own grief at the loss of a thirty year marriage was acknowledged, breaks Sarah's reverie with the announcement that she's discovered evidence that Cully was supporting himself by dealing hash. Her point, we guess, is that no matter how loving a relationship you're in, parental, marital, filial, you may never fully know another human being.

This theme is further played out when Kit mysteriously arrives on the scene. An impish young lady, about the same age that Cully would have been, offers her services to Sarah during a snow storm. Sarah's dad Lyle has been living with her since Cully's death, diminishing their agony by sharing it. A wryly humorous retiree with too much time on his hands, Lyle strikes up a surprisingly intimate conversation with Kit. Why has she come? Did she know Cully?  Before the afternoon is over she's ensconced at the dinner table, spending the night in Cully's room, and Sarah is basking in the glow of having a young person around again.

Ms. Hemmings, in both novels, depicts contemporary, non-traditional families with warmth and acceptance. Long friendships like Sarah's and Suzanne's are put to the test yet emerge intact. Sarah and Cully's dad, Billy, though never married, remain touchstones in each other's lives. Anguished decisions, made in the past, no longer haunt the present. And the future? Well, the possibilities are many.


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