Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"The Possibilities," by Kaui Hart Hemmings

George Clooney! For better or worse, that’s who I think of when I think of Kaui Hart Hemmings’ first novel, “The Descendants.” This is because I didn’t read the book, but saw and admired the popular movie based on the book a couple of years ago. Now I have read Hemmings' new novel, “The Possibilities” (Simon & Schuster, 2014), and can focus on her actual writing rather than on George Clooney. This new novel is the story of a woman, Sarah St. John, whose 22-year-old son Cully has died a few months before in an avalanche in her beloved hometown of Breckenridge, Colorado. The story tells of her desperate grief, but also of her very slowly finding her way towards at least seeing the possibilities (see the title) of renewed connection to life, and even moments of happiness. She is fortunate to have a loving and helpful if somewhat eccentric father, Lyle; a good relationship with Cully’s father, Billy; and a close friend, Suzanne. Then into their lives comes a young woman, Kit, whom Cully had, unbeknownst to Sarah and the others, been seeing before he died. These five characters share tears, jokes, anger, and hope, especially as they drive a few hours away to what is supposed to be a memorial service for Cully but turns out to be something else. There are a handful of plot events in the few days on which the story focuses, but what is more important is how each character copes with her or his grief, and the somewhat strange situation of the main characters' incorporating Kit into their group. Also notable is the originality of each character. The story is of course wrenching…how could it not be? Yet the novel shows the way grief surges and recedes, and the way life intercedes and goes on, no matter what. The ending is a bit inconclusive, but that too reflects “real life.” I am aware that my description sounds as if the story is a sort of self-help, Hallmark-y lesson about coping with grief; this is not, in fact, how the novel comes across. There is wisdom, yes, but also bewilderment, deep pain, and affection. I give Hemmings much credit for her perceptive and closely observed portrayal of the complexity and fluctuations of great grief, and of the improbable but somehow realistic humor and flashes of joy the characters experience along the way.
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