The Season of Second Chances by Diane Meier (St. Martin’s Griffin; $14.99; 320 pages)
“…my house, my home, had become something deep and comforting to me, far beyond what I’d ever expected to find or feel in… a world outside of ideas, of letters or literature.”
“…most men tend to live one-dimensional lives…”
Have you ever watched one of those home improvement shows where you patiently wait throughout the entire show for the big reveal at the end – and then the end is a disappointment? That’s the way I felt about reading this book, which I wanted to like more than I did. There was just less here than I expected to find.
This is the story of a romance between an academically minded homeowner, Joy Harkness, and a handyman-carpenter by the name of Ted Hennessey. Joy leaves the politics of Columbia University to teach in an innovative new program at Amherst College in Massachusetts. She has plenty of money so she buys her first real home, which is a run-down Victorian. Naturally, it needs to be run-down in order for Teddy to enter the picture.
It was the character of Teddy Hennessey that just did not add up for me and made the read slower than it should have been. When we first encounter Teddy, he’s the handyman who listens to The Who cassettes all day on his boom box. That’s when he’s not reciting the poetry of Yeats, from memory no less. Now, really, what are the chances of finding a handyman like that? Well, virtually none in the real world. Highly improbable to say the least.
“I’ll always be her child!” he snarled.
Oh, but then we think that maybe Teddy’s a closet intellectual who is just dying for the chance to go to college, something that Joy can help him with, right? No, it turns out that our Teddy is afraid of going to school because then he’d have to abandon his sainted mother who has him wrapped around her finger like a 9-year-old. So we’re left with a man-child who is simply not likeable… Why the once-married, yet seemingly independent, Joy is attracted to this wuss is a sheer mystery.
Since the romance between Teddy and Joy (note the juvenile names) is doomed, Joy develops an attraction to her abode. This is merely a comforting, if hardly an earth shattering, premise on which to build a novel.
“I turned and noticed, as I climbed the steps to the porch, that my house looked warm and inviting. The rooms were lit, glowing from within; the colors they reflected were soft and inviting. There was life in this house, and I was part of it.”
There was also a lot of crying in this book. “Tears ran down my face and puddle around my nose before soaking the pillow. I didn’t know why I was crying…” “I’ve cried more this year than in the past twenty combined.” “(I) cried until I didn’t think there could possibly be any liquid left in my body.” I’m not sure why the otherwise solid – and growingly feminist – protagonist needs to experience such intense crying jags, another confusing factor.
One more confusing thing relates to a major scene in the book. Joy’s married-but-separated friend Donna is savagely attacked by her former husband. Donna’s ex uses a golf club to beat her nearly to death; pieces of her scalp are found on the club by the police. Donna apparently has several broken bones in her face and is in critical condition. She’s rushed to the hospital for life-saving surgery and facial reconstruction. A number of characters in this story act commendably, taking care of Donna’s children during the time that she’s away. Eventually, Donna returns home on Valentine’s Day and the very thing the reader wants to know goes hauntingly unanswered – what does her face look like? (It’s as if the character departs as a human but returns as a ghost.)
On the plus side, there’s some nice humor. “I went into the dressing room and emerged from the curtain in outfit after outfit, like a puppet in a Punch and Judy show.” But as for the ending of this story, it simply appeared to run out of steam rather than concluding in a definitive and logical way.
Some might be attracted to this tale because of its promise of a type of late-in-life feminism, or the notion that someone can, in a sense, partner with one’s surroundings. Both are promising and positive notions but they did not eliminate a sense of hollowness.
“I had no story, or, at least, none that I could see. But my vantage point was, perhaps, too close to the shore to see that I had, at last, begun to swim toward my own life.”
This novel may present, for the right reader, lessons that will assist in commencing a journey of self-examination and discovery… I was not that reader.
A review copy was received from the publisher. The Season of Second Chances was released in trade paperback form on March 29, 2011.