Tag Archives: Time of My Life

The Unforgiven

The Stuff That Never Happened: A Novel by Maddie Dawson (Broadway, $14.00, 336 pages)

“Grant had never forgiven her for stuff that happened twenty-six years ago…”

Annabelle McKay is a student at U.C., Santa Barbara when she meets her future husband Grant at a students’ apartment eviction party in Isla Vista.   Annabelle and Grant have a whirlwind romance, and she drops out of school to marry him; he’s been offered a teaching position at a college in Manhattan.   The new couple has no place to live, so in the interim they move in with Grant’s mentor, Jeremiah, Jeremiah’s wife Carly, and their twin toddlers.

The newly married Annabelle is shocked to find that Grant has no time to spend with her.   The same holds true for Jeremiah when it comes to Carly, a former dancer and now instructor.   Thus, Annabelle and the older Jeremiah (who’s home on a one-year sabbatical) become responsible for maintaining the apartment and taking care of the children.   It is not too difficult for the average reader to see where this is headed, as the abandoned parties come to seek comfort in each other’s bodies and beds.

Yes, this is popular fiction wrapped in the guises of a serious adult novel; although it is an interesting twist on the usual telling, which places the new husband in the role of unhappily just married.   It is usually, on page and in film, the young man who finds another to soothe his discomforts.

Annabelle’s infidelity is discovered by Grant, and this stolid man advises her to never return to him if she elects to live with  Jeremiah.   But somehow a deal is struck – after a series of implausible events – and Annabelle and Grant make a pact to live together again as husband and wife.   A key condition attached to the pact, as insisted on by the proud Grant, is that they never speak of (or to) Jeremiah again or of “the stuff that never happened.”

No, this is not where the story ends, it is where it begins.   As the novel opens, it is almost twenty-seven years later and a still unhappy and restless Annabelle is Googling for information on Jeremiah.   She comes to find that he’s a widower now, as Carly died of cancer.   Annabelle and Grant live in a community outside of New York City, but she cannot stop herself from thinking of what would happen if she were to somehow run into Jeremiah while visiting her married, pregnant daughter in the city.

Even Annabelle knows that such a chance meeting is unlikely, except in stories such as this one.   After another set of implausible events (the second of two sets, if you’re counting), Annabelle has moved to New York City to take care of her daughter and guess – just guess – who she runs into!   Not much more needs to be said about the plot, as this will either seem like an interesting story or a rehashing of what has come before in other novels and films.

Blurbs on the book jacket compare author Maddie Dawson to both Elizabeth Berg and Anne Tyler, which seems to this reader like a stretch.   While Dawson writes in the “straight ahead” fashion of Berg, her style is sometimes plodding by comparison and the time shifts are awkward and distracting.   There may be a hint of Tyler’s factual reporting but without Tyler’s sense of suspense.   When Anne Tyler writes about small events in the lives of her characters, there’s a feeling that something unexpected is about to occur.   (Something is going to happen and we don’t know what it is.)   Such is not the case with the predictability of The Stuff.

Then there’s the matter of the characters.   I encountered not a single likeable character in this novel, which provided little incentive to continue the reading.   In fact, while only pages away from the story’s end I realized that it didn’t seem to matter to me anymore how it ended; there being no one to relate to in the cast.

To be fair and clear, this is not a story without merits – it does offer some interesting thoughts on parenting and life’s regrets.   But there are many other novels out there about re-living one’s life over again, or returning to the scene of one’s youth, and most of them (such as Allison Winn Scotch’s Time of My Life or Berg’s The Last Time I Saw You) offer more interesting tales than this one.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   This is the third of three reviews of The Stuff That Never Happened posted on this site.   The novel was well recommended by Kelly Monson, and highly recommended by Kimberly Caldwell.

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Upside Down

The Stuff That Never Happened by Maddie Dawson (Shaye Areheart Books, August 2010)

Annabelle McKay is a student at U.C, Santa Barbara when she meets her future husband Grant at a students’ apartment eviction party in Isla Vista.   Annabelle and Grant have a whirlwind romance, and she drops out of school to marry Grant; he’s been offered a teaching position at a college in Manhattan.   The new couple has no place to live, so in the interim they move in with Grant’s mentor, Jeremiah, Jeremiah’s wife Carly, and their toddler twins.

The newly married Annabelle is shocked to find that Grant has no time to spend with her.   The same holds true for Jeremiah when it comes to Carly, a former dancer and now instructor.  Thus, Annabelle and the older Jeremiah (who is home on a one-year sabbatical) become responsible for maintaining the apartment and taking care of the children.   It is not too difficult for the average reader to see where this is headed, as the abandoned parties come to seek comfort in each other’s bodies and beds.

Yes, this is chick lit (popular fiction) disguised in the trappings of a serious adult novel; although it is an interesting twist on the usual telling, which places the new husband in the role of unhappily just married.   It is usually, on page and in film, the young man who finds another to soothe his discomforts.

Annabelle’s infidelity is discovered by Grant, and this stolid man advises her to never return to him if she elects to live with Jeremiah.   But somehow a deal is struck – after a series of implausible events – and Annabelle and Grant make a pact to live together again as husband and wife.   A key condition attached to the pact, as insisted on by the proud Grant, is that they never speak of (or to) Jeremiah again or of “the stuff that never happened.”

No, this is not where the story ends, it is where it begins.   As the novel opens, it is almost twenty-seven years later and a still unhappy and restless Annabelle is Googling for information on Jeremiah.   She comes to find that he’s a widower now, as Carly has died of cancer.   Annabelle and Grant live in a community outside of New York City, but she cannot stop herself from thinking of what would happen if she were to somehow run into Jeremiah while visiting her  pregnant, married daughter in the city.

Even Annabelle knows that such a chance meeting is unlikely, except in novels such as this one.   After another set of implausible events, Annabelle has moved to the city to take care of her daughter and guess – just guess – who she runs into!   Not much more needs to be said about the plot, as this will seem like an interesting story or a rehashing of what has come before in other novels and films.

Blurbs on the book jacket compare author Maddie Dawson to both Elizabeth Berg and Anne Tyler, which seems to this reader like a status she has not earned.   While Dawson writes in the “straight ahead” fashion of Berg, her style is occasionally plodding by comparison and the time shifts are distracting.   There also may be a hint of Tyler’s factual reporting but without Tyler’s sense of suspense.   When Anne Tyler writes about small events in the lives of her characters, there’s a feeling that something unexpected is about to occur.   (Something is going to happen and we don’t know what it is.)   Such is not the case with the predictability of The Stuff. 

Then there’s the matter of the characters.   I encountered not a single likeable character in this novel, which provided little incentive to continue the reading.   In fact, while only pages away from the story’s end I realized that it didn’t seem to matter to me anymore how it ended; there being no one to relate to in the cast.

To be fair and clear, this is not a story without merits – it does offer some interesting thoughts on parenting and life’s regrets.   But there are many other novels out there about re-living one’s life over again, or returning to the scene of one’s youth, and most of them (such as Allison Winn Scotch’s Time of My Life or Berg’s The Last Time I Saw You) offer more interesting tales than this one.

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The Stuff That Never Happened was released on August 3, 2010.

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Not the One

The One That I Want by Allison Winn Scotch (Shaye Areheart Books, June 1, 2010)

“…I wonder if being too satisfied with your life and becoming numb to it aren’t somehow intertwined.   Like there isn’t something just as dangerous about playing it safe.”

It’s odd to love a novel by a writer and then be disappointed by her next effort.   That is the position this reviewer is in with the release of Allison Winn Scotch’s The One That I Want, which follows her very successful Time of My Life.   Lifewas a glorious read with a plot that was a variation on the storyline in the film “Peggy Sue Got Married.”   In Scotch’s novel a young woman isn’t sure that she’s made the best choices in her life and wishes she could return to a certain point in her life.   In Time of My Life the protagonist Jillian Westfield is a 34-year-old woman – married with a husband and a toddler – who is permitted to return to the age of 27 (her life becomes a “do over”).   The reader follows along to see if Jillian can make better use of these 7 years with the so-called benefit of 20-20 hindsight.

It was easy to identify with Jillian Westfield from page one and the story seemed to move along effortlessly.   Author Scotch also provided the reader with some very nice insights such as noting that in romantic relationships, “One person is always changing too much and the other not enough.”   Unfortunately, The One That I Want does not share the positives of Life.

In The One, our protagonist is Tilly Farmer, a 32-year-old young woman with the seemingly perfect marriage and life.   Then everything falls apart, not gradually but all at once.   If this were not bad enough, Farmer is given the gift of seeing the future, although it’s not a gift she welcomes.   It’s an unpleasant gift as her future looks bleak.

It’s obvious that Scotch has fashioned an inside-out version of her earlier novel here.   But Tilly Farmer is hard to identify with – she’s externally forgiving of other’s faults but boils inside.   This reviewer felt that he never actually knew the character even after 288 pages.   There’s also the awkward means by which Farmer’s fortune-telling skills are triggered.   It would have been easy to have her experience visions in her sleep or in daydreams.   But, no, Farmer must experience painful blackouts – she sees the future only while unconscious.   Farmer pays for her views into the future by experiencing physical trauma, and this makes the reader uncomfortable and less willing to wait for the next such incident.

A number of things happen in this novel that strain credulity from the outset.   But perhaps the key is that in Life Scotch wrote a complete story, almost as if it came to her all at once.   With this story, it felt as if Scotch was writing it a line, a paragraph, a page at a time; the flow is not present.   A number of the sentences are awkward and stiff, such as this second half of a long sentence:  “…I realize that lessons are meant to be learned, honored even, or else you spend your life running so far from them that you erect a false existence around the very thing you should be embracing.”

Perhaps Scotch was playing it safe here; in any case, this novel felt strangely numbing.   It never came to life.   Her fictional journey into the past in Time of My Life was satisfying in a way that The One That I Want – a journey into the future – is not.   Apparently Jackson Browne got it wrong – it’s simply not easier to change the future than the past.

Take Away:   Pass on this one and pick up a copy of Time of My Life instead.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.

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I’ve Had the Time of My Life

Time of My Life: A Novel by Allison Winn Scotch (Broadway, $14.00, 304 pages)

A young woman isn’t sure she’s made the best choices in her life and wishes she could return to a certain point in her life;  if only she had a second chance at her past.   Does this sound like the premise of Peggy Sue Got Married?   Yes, and it is also the premise for this story of a 34-year-old woman – married with husband Henry and a toddler – who gets to return to the age of 27.   Can Jillian Westfield make better use of these 7 years with the so-called benefit of 20-20 hindsight?Time of My Life

One of Jillian’s key conflicts consists of having to choose between her former Orlando Bloomish boyfriend Jack (romantic and impulsive but a frustrated writer with virtually no ambition) or the once-chosen-to-be-her-husband Henry.   Henry is calm, steady, mathematical, logical and doggedly ambitious.   Knowing what she’s learned the first time around will Jillian choose instant gratification or long term reward?   Sparks or a steady flame?

This is another book that is not the “hilarious read” promised on the back book cover.   But Allison Winn Scotch is indeed a fluent writer:   “…as the lights of the city glow in the window behind us, we all look much the same:  mothers who sit in wonder and wait for the children who will inevitably change their lives.”   Scotch also has the ability to remind us of things that should be obvious, such as the fact that in romantic relationships, “One person is always changing too much and the other not enough.”

The joys and tribulations of motherhood are another key theme of Time of My Life.   Children inevitably change the lives of parents and family members in ways both foreseen and those that are completely unexpected.

The author’s greatest gift is in teaching the reader how to accept, enjoy and celebrate life without needing to blow things out of proportion.   Marriages, births, deaths:  “…it was just life, nothing glorious, nothing shabby…”.

A glorious read, nothing shabby about it.   Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

This book was purchased by the reviewer.

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Coming Up Next…

Time of My Life 3A review of Time of My Life by Allison Winn Scotch.

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